Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Minor Media Madness

Holiday at Dad's place means I have access to digital cable - including BBC Prime. After several days, it appears that most of British television entertainment these days is focused on two topics: houses (including gardens), and food. Though I don't mind too much - the shows are worth watching and I'm fairly interested in both. Yes, I'm a yuppie.

Except that all the food shows have made the field a bit too much of a media focus. When a TV show host really says of a contestant, a kid of maybe 19 who wants to become a chef - "his cooking is incredible, but not his personality; he's not a star" - you have to wonder.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The superior value of money

Value is a matter of perception - right? A 500 Euro bill is only worth more than the paper it's printed on because governments say so, and businesses agree. In fact even metal money was to a large extent a matter of consensus: in the Middle Ages there were very few practical uses for gold. It was used as money because it was rare (so people couldn't randomly make more) and because it was soft, easily malleable. But because it was so soft, you could not make satisfactory weapons or armor, or nails out of it.

Money is a convenient tool for the exchange of things that have intrinsic value, and allows the seller to split up the value in a convenient way. (You can trade a piece of land for 20 years worth of food a lot better if you use money.) But this convenience in itself has additional value. An item worth a hundred dollars is actually less valuable than a hundred-dollar bill.

A real-life example. I am looking for another car, and there's one being sold through the local Honda owners club that I like. The problem is that it's on an island, and it's a six-hour bus trip one way for me. I could have the owner bring it to Tartu... for an extra thousand kroons. Which is around what a bus ticket there and gas money back would cost me.

Whoever makes the trip, risks losing money if the deal falls through. Him even moreso than me, because the bus fare is a lot less than the ferry and gas costs. But I'm lazy, and the price would still be acceptable, so I expected him to come to Tartu. The reason being that even though we would be exchanging an amount of money for something of that worth, he would be getting liquid assets. He would be getting more value out of it.

And yes, I realize that this is probably something you can find in Chapter Three of most economics texbooks. But in a similar way, the thought has a lot more value if it occured to me independently.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Sad Bastard Christmas Set

This, I kid thee not, is a matched pair. For the second holiday season running (that I've noticed, at least), you can buy a bottle of Johnnie Red and get a miniature Canadian spruce in a pot for free.

The little piece of glossy cardboard sticking out of the dirt holds care instructions, suggesting that the tree be repotted in a bigger receptacle soon, and in the spring, as soon as the winter chills have passed, it be planted outside. Eventually it is to grow into a lovely, cone-shaped, classical fairy-tale Christmas tree up to seven feet tall.

Which is, of course, just some conscionable copywriter attempting to cut down on alcohol-related suicide spike around the end of December.

The weekend bookstore run landed me with Nick Hornby's "Long Way Down", which is a book about a quarter of sad lonely people failing to kill themselves on New Year's Eve. It's this sort of little coincidence that you notice. The night before I got on an airplane for the first time, or rather three airplanes in succession for a 20-hour trip to San Diego, I watched Pushing Tin, a movie with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton about psycho air traffic controllers.

Nick Hornby is best-known for High Fidelity. I read the book once, and saw the movie countless times. It has John Cusack in it, and Jack Black. Cusack is a very Christmasy actor, overall. He did that film with Kate Beckinsale.

If I was an existing movie star, I'd be Jack Black.

There's a girl some hundred-odd miles north of where I'm sitting, who would be Kate Beckinsale. Even though she says she'd be Mila Yovovich.

Years ago, around this time of the year, a girl said she'd started to worry about me killing myself. (Months earlier I had told her I loved her; did it in the most cowardly way imaginable, seconds before getting on a bus to another country. I expected her to tell me to sod off, but she didn't. She waited a couple months for that. A few weeks after that, I couldn't talk to her.) I thought to myself that the girl had a bit of an opinion of herself; I'd had much better reasons to kill myself, and didn't. She'd hurt me deeply, but in the grand scheme of my life, she didn't rank.

So no, I'm not going to wash down a tin of painkillers with that bottle of Johnnie Red while looking at my little Christmas tree.

(The Kate/Mila girl and the suicide girl are two entirely different girls, you understand. Polar opposites in most ways, though I met them under similar circumstances.)

I don't really think I've done badly in my life so far. Not objectively. And I'm used to being alone. Spent the first eighteen years of my life around people I never specifically liked, on a personal level, and put a fair bit of effort into being able to live alone for the last four. I've got a job, and I've got friends who like me. Saw six of them after the bookstore run on the weekend. (Well, OK, some were spouses.)

Still, I can't help feeling miserable when I'm alone on Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Gam zeh ya'avor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's all so SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD. It's something you are acutely aware of in Estonia, especially this time of year - but I suspect elsewhere in North Europe as well. A mortal combination of apathy, melancholy and irritability, it is brought on by a deficiency of sunlight. This year it has been compounded by an unusually warm November and December. A little bit of frost - enough to cause a few high-profile car crashes - and then nothing, weeks upon weeks of overcast, +8C weather.

For Nordic people, SAD is usually neutralized to a large extent by snowfall, but we've not had any. All we have is rain, and muck, and even Campustown feels dirty; Tallinn resembles an anthill in a toilet bowl. Useful sunlight (defined by the ability to read a newspaper on the street comfortably) is scarce: Daylight Savings Time has made a valiant attempt to at least make people leave for work when it's not dark, but the impermiable cloud cover negates the effect. Proper cold would bring about clear skies at least, if not snowfall. But the forecasts are not pretty.

I sit by my office window all day, overlooking a building site and the intercity bus terminal. The grey-brown mud, the naked trees, the dirty cars all serve to create a down mood. The constant drizzle and the wind mean that people have to wear their winter coats; you are either uncomfortably hot, or uncomfortably wet.

Mutton, ever the cheerful and cheeky Brit, has succumbed to SAD with the rest of us. He's confused by his girlfriend's lack of excitement at a trip he's been looking forward to; and I suspect she's at least partly affected by SAD as well. The syndrome is characterized by an all-encompassing feeling of bleh.

The capital, with its defining aspect of ambition and greed, regales in commercialism, but that doesn't quite do it for Tartu. The street decorations are beautiful this year, but they look wrong without snow; and although the calm, intellectual and family-oriented South Estonian town should find solace in approaching holidays, the general mood isn't uplifted. It is especially hard on the students - not only in Tartu, but elsewhere too - as they are finishing up their semester and preparing for exams. It does make sense, the way the colleges are doing it - no distinct Christmas break, big tests just after the New Year, and most of January off - but it does make people tired and annoyed before the holidays. Makes them SAD.

The point of having Christmas when it's being had, going back to the pagan celebrations that it took over, was to offer something to which you could look forward. Break up the monotony, the rut of the farmer and fisherman who are done for the year and now spend most of their time indoors mending equipment. The entirety of January and February, and most likely March, before we see the Sun again is just too daunting. Hey, in 1918 the locals were so sick and SAD by the end of February that they actually gained independence. Very well-placed holiday, that.

This will be my second holiday season since graduating, but I'm not doing any better than an exhausted college student. Yes, I'm an atheist and a cynic, but I genuinely enjoy the idea of Christmas, the myth of it. The distinct sensation that I'll probably end up alone, on the days when I most need someone to hold and be near, is the most SAD thing of them all.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Estonica: Other People's Content

Translated from a LiveJournal post. I've also removed the things which only make sense to Russian-speakers.

You've been living in Estonia too long if...

1. A mention of a town with a population of a million or more causes you to panic slightly.
2. The phrase "go south, get some sun" can feasibly mean Latvia or Lithuania. The phrase "go north" is semantically null.
3. You dislike Finns.
4. It's been years since you've seen your paper passport and paper bus pass.
6. And weeks since you've seen cash money.
7. And you barely remember that there are other forms of payment except electronic ones.
8. When you come to a city that has a subway, you are prepared to spend a day just riding it.
9. You presume that all other countries also have ubiquitous Internet access.
10. Four-digit bus route numbers cause your brain to shut down.
11. You have very rarely been to Narva, Viljandi and Pärnu. They're all too far.
12. You feel that the University of Tartu is among the top 5 best/largest/oldest universities in the world, and if you've graduated from it, all paths in life are open for you.
13. Swimming in +18C water is a perfectly normal summer activity for you.
14. Although when summer does come around, you tend to be working that day.
15. You will die before finding out if anyone actually does buy all those black&white hand-knit sweaters in the Old Town.
16. You can name from memory all the really big musical acts that have performed in Estonia.
17. You are gradually beginning to understand Finnish.
18. Walking down Viru street, you can accurately name all the cruise ships in Tallinn harbour on that day.
19. You can tell Estonian girls apart.
20. You can tell a Russian from an Estonian, in a crowd, at a glance.
21. You know the names of all three black people living in Estonia.
22. Any place beyond a "now leaving town" roadsign is the countryside.
23. You remember the 1-kroon bill and the 5-sent coin.
24. A person that speaks three languages isn't the slightest bit impressive.
25. Your biological clock senses with perfect accuracy the 15 minutes since you've parked your car in the center of town.
26. You have already been to Olde Hansa.
27. You know what the EURIBOR rate is right now.
28. If it takes more than 10 minutes to drive somewhere within the city, you are mildly annoyed because it is too far.
29. You are beginning to have a glimmer of hope for ever learning how to correctly pronounce Jüriöö Ülestõus.
30. Your doctor prescribes a visit to a tanning salon.
31. You take it as inevitable that you will need to go abroad for some things: clothes, footwear, books, theme parks...
32. First-graders with mobile phones no longer surprise you.
33. People who type slowly and carefully using only their index fingers are subconsciously considered to be foreigners.
34. You know why the Mermaid memorial has wings, but no fishtail.
35. The most difficult subjects you learned at school were estonian history, estonian geography and estonian literature.
36. You know the other meaning of the noun "alien".
37. Seeing a helicopter in the sky is an exceptional occurrence.
38. You complain about traffic jams. People laugh at you.
39. You know subconsciously that the bus lane is separated from the general traffic lanes by an invisible wall.
40. You can speak with pride of Estonia's tallest mountain.
41. Buildings taller than 20 floors are sightseeing items where you bring visitors.
42. You are beginning to find Eino Baskin's jokes funny.
43. You can call Tallinn a "capital" with a straight face.
44. You can tell the difference between the local winter, summer, spring and fall.
45. On June 23rd, you feel the irresistible urge to drink beer and barbeque meat.
46. You consider Viru Valge to be a good brand of vodka.
47. When you hear "Kristina", you think of Shmigun, not Aguilera.
48. When at a cafe abroad you get a cup of instant coffee, you are astounded.
49. Every year you believe, deep in your heart, that Estonia will once again win Eurovision.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Flasher's "Republic"

Winston Churchill is credited with saying - something to the effect of - "democracy is a truly wretched form of government, but it is the best one humanity has come up with to date".

On this, the election day in the US, allow me to publically consider the ways in which the beacon of freedom and democracy has fallen behind the times. I hasten to disappoint mr. Churchill's ghost - half a century later we have not chanced upon anything superior; however, we have tried many different forms of democracy, and some of those contain sparks of brilliance.

As I have already mentioned on this site, the problem with America's political system is that it is an antiquated wreck which its subjects refuse to consign to its rightful place on the scrapheap of history. The American mentality is characterized foremost by its religious fervor; even the brave souls who dare to be openly atheist are often hopelessly blinded by civil religion, an equally unjustified deference of judgement to an authority beyond reproach. And while churchgoers can at least partially be excused by the fact that their gospel is ostensibly sourced from a being of omnipotence and infinite wisdom, civil religion is based on the deliberations of a group of men, by definition fallible. They may have been revolutionaries as much in thought as in action, but their vision must be considered in the context of period and intention.

The union of states conceived by the founding fathers was to be a loose confederation, brought together for the purposes of foreign policy and joint security, and little else. At its most centralized it could be what Europe is today - unified in many measurable ways, but with every component distinctly unique and confidently independent. The trace of this vision in today's American civil religion is the fiercely defended, but rarely practiced, concept of states' rights. Certainly there is a significant degree of cohesion in American society - a black WalMart checkout clerk in Louisiana has more in common with Hillary Clinton than with a teenager in Ghana - but as the hysteria around today's election shows, the USA is today indeed a nation divided upon itself. (The tragedy of America is not that the Bush administration is in power, but that it is in power legitimately, through a democratic process; much like someone else mr. Churchill has had a few words to say about... but I won't continue on this tangent for fear of Godwin's Law.)

The political system built up in the late 18th century was well-suited to the peculiarities of the age, but today it is outdated; and reform seems impossible because those it hurts believe blindly in it, as the manifestation of the divine will of the Founding Fathers. American democracy needs to be dismantled and reconstituted. As I have touted the success of my nation in creating a superior (in a number of significant ways, at least) constitution when given the opportunity to start anew in recent times, I shall present a set of suggestions; elements of what I believe to be the best implementation of democracy possible with current knowledge.

The first thing to go is the institute of the President in its current form. I consider it a triumph of democracy that in 15 years of the independent history of my country, no leader has served a full term. A constant, visceral threat to the ruler's position - the inevitability of him being removed in case of failure - is a marvelously effective stimulus. A nominal ruler, like the monarch in Great Britain and the president in Estonia, is necessary; his job is to be above political infighting. Ours is a figurehead, elected by the parliament or college of local council representatives for a five-year term, and employed mostly as the pincushion for foreign dignitaries, is nevertheless endowed with the power of the veto; any bill passed by the parliament may be refused authorization by the president, and returned for augmentation. The veto can be overturned by a constitutional majority.

Which is not likely, since Flasher's Republic is not a two-party system. Unlike Britain, the best-known parliamentary republic, the Prime Minister is not automatically assigned from the one party with the most seats, with a cabinet of followers. I believe greatly in the good of the coalition. The leader of the country must be the one who can count the majority of lawmakers in his ranks. If this means dealing with minor players, wonderful. A small party, just barely over the entrance threshold, gains significant bargaining power by offering its services to the major contenders; in return it requires support for its own Big Idea. This neatly sidesteps the problem of a two-party system, where one is forced to vote for the lesser evil while disagreeing with a large part of their platform. Normally apathetic voters can be stirred by the one issue they care about; and if the one-issue party makes it into the coalition, the vote will have been used in a highly efficient way. The power of radicals is, on the other side, limited by the abundance of small parties for the coalition-makers to choose from; the Jews for Hitler party may even make it past the five-percent barrier, but the PM hopeful will much rather get the same seats from the Green Party, pacified by an inoffensive increase in national park financing, something that voters who would never vote for the tree-huggers anyway cannot find an objection to.

I am, however, quite impressed by another British element, that which is unique because the Parliament itself predates the concept of political parties. My own parliamentary republic is blighted by the inadequacy of proportional representation; the Prime Minister is kept in check by the everpresent possibility of his coalition falling apart, but individual lawmakers are protected by the anonymity of the party list. Local elections here are subject to a clause whereby a party must fill its seats with the top performers by individual vote count, and not at the arbitrary discretion of the whips; parliamentary elections do not have this safeguard. The British first-past-the-post arrangement, whereby each parliament seat represents a quantity of population and contains the arse of the person that specific quantity liked best, goes a long way to ensuring an MP's personal accountability.

There are other issues - primarily ideas of what should constitute a fair wage for a lawmaker, etc. - but they are details. The ideas above are the significant ones, the concepts that I wish to seed in the consciousness of at least the small community of Antyx readership, and possibly in those who may find this article later via an obscure Google search. As I return to the greater Internet to see who's actually winning the US election, I urge you simply - to think about it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Even though I am fairly distrustful of Web 2.0 hype, I finally got a Flickr account. Click on the title of this post to see some of my shots, and a particularly weird picture of myself.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A tale of treachery and terror

That kid's name was Ofir Rahum. He lived in Israel, in a town called Ashkelon. Some time in 2000, he met a girl online. They hit it off. Gradually he fell in love - and it looked like so did she.

The girl called herself Sally, but her real name was Mona Awana (correct spelling unclear, transcription from semitic languages is always ambiguous). She was a Palestinian, educated in an Israeli university, with a degree in psychology. She was also part of Fatah, Yassir Arafat's organization.

After a while, the two agreed to meet. Ofir went to Jerusalem, where he and the girl got in her car. She drove him to Ramallah. Once they were in Palestinian territory, she got out of the car, and three gunmen started firing upon it.

When Ofir's body was handed over to the Israeli authorities, 36 hours later, it contained no less than 15 bullets.

The gunmen were later killed by Israeli special forces. Mona was arrested, convicted of accessory to murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

A Russian-language Israeli newspaper managed to interview her in April of this year. Their first question, of course, was whether she has any regrets about getting the boy killed.

'Of course not. In two years he would have been conscripted, and told to shoot at Palestinians. So he's an enemy. Any Israeli is an enemy to us - both boys and girls serve in the army.'

According to Mona, Ofir was silent all the way from Jerusalem to Ramallah. How come? Did he suspect anything?

'Most likely he was just scared, but didn't want to show it. I'm a psychologist by training, and in my opinion Ofir had two conflicting feelings in the car on that day. He still believed me, but already had some doubts. Ofir was a strong kid, he could've grabbed the wheel, turned the car off the road and saved himself. But...'

Is she afraid now, in jail? Does she have nightmares about Ofir?

'I'm not afraid of dreams. I'm strong. I have a life in jail. I can watch TV, listen to the radio, read newspapers in Hebrew, Arabic, English. All inmates are allowed three hours a day out in the courtyard. Once every two weeks I see my family. I have plenty of money that different organizations transfer in my name. I get up to fifty letters a day. Some of them are love confessions. A few years from now they'll have to release me, and I'll get married...'

Why am I writing this post? So far I've approached the entire Middle East thing from what I like to think is a detached, reasonably objective perspective. Probably I just need a copy of the story that I can refer to, the next time I get into an Israeli-Arab flame war and people start talking about all the Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.

That, and as an example of the difference between war and terrorism.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The One-Click-What? Phenomenon

Nearly a year ago I marveled at the design of Rapidshare, which bills itself as the world's biggest 1-click file hoster or some such rubbish. The same applies to documents.

It's easy for technical writers to get caught up in the marvel of formatting. When you're writing for utter fucking morons (and the canonical presumption of end-user documentation is that they are), you want to break down the information into chunks as small as possible and feed these to your reader individually. So you avoid long sentences and long paragraphs, use plenty of screenshots, all sorts of pretty colored fonts with dropped shadows and plenty of whitespace - to differentiate conceptually separate items.

But if you're not careful, at some point you'll end up with a page that looks like the front page of Rapidshare, and that makes your document unuseable. People have a specific expectation of how information is presented. It may be difficult to find your spot again on a page of uniform text after you've looked away, but it's a skill that anybody who has ever read a book in more than one sitting possesses.

The basic dichotomy of documentation is that of a manual versus a help file. People are meant to read a manual, and look up a help file. Naturally they won't actually sit down with your manual in front of a cozy fire one winter's evening (unless it is to ceremonially convert the printout to kindling), but there's a method to the madness. Manuals are things people look up when they have no other choice, and if they're that stumped, you might as well force them to read through more than half a paragraph and learn something useful. They're sufficiently open to it at that point. Of course, it is possible to make a manual useless by neglecting effective navigation (of which markup is a part), but it's a fine line that you will simply have to find, by talent or skill.

But a page full of needless whitespace, seemingly arbitrary indentation and drop-shadow fonts is a greater crime still. Finding data on a sheet of plain text is difficult enough, but ask the human mind to parse an overly formatted page at a glance, and it will shut down due to insufficient computing resources. This is the One-Click What? Phenomenon, or, if you wish, the WTF effect.

I'm probably over-simplifying, and I know my boss (who reads this blog) will kick my ass for saying this, but if you can't make your page readable using MS Word's default headings 1 through 3 and paragraph breaks, then you're simply not trying hard enough.

Estonica: Presidential

The term of the current President of Estonia is running out soon. They're electing a new one.

There are currently two contenders. The incumbent is a familiar figure who used to run the country in the Soviet days, and was then involved in the liberation movement. The other is an American expat, son of WWII-era refugees, that came back to Estonia after 1991.

The Soviet guy is supported by the party that controls the capital and the biggest single chunk of the popular vote. The American guy is supported by the ruling coalition. The smear campaigns have been in full force for weeks.

Here's the kicker: not only doesn't the President of Estonia have any political power, but he's not even elected directly. The parliament had its chance, but the coalition fell three votes short of the necessarity majority. The opposition simply didn't show up for the vote, afraid of renegades in their own ranks. Now it's up to a caucus made up of representatives from local governments. The opposition carried the capital and gave no delegates to the coalition; the coalition carried the second biggest city and returned the favor. Some local councils were deadlocked and failed to elect any representatives at all.

Estonia is a multiparty parliamentary republic where prime ministers don't make it from one general election to the next. It's small enough that the politicians are kept in check more or less effectively. There isn't really a significant difference in platforms, and a voter's choice comes down simply to who you dislike less.

As a result, politics in Estonia is an inconsequential soap opera, with a familiar cast of fumbling characters. You can observe it with curiosity or incredulity. Or even annoyance.

Estonia's national football team has a specific pattern for home games: they look really good, have a bunch of feasible shots on goal. Ocasionally they'll pull off a nil-nil draw against Croatia or a noble 0-1 loss against Portugal, off an interdimensional fluke in their defense. You always feel like they're about to pull off something awesome, a brilliant flash of competence. And then they inexplicably crash and burn.

Estonia's political scene is much the same.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Paragraph Twelve

Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinion, property or social status, or on other grounds.

The incitement of national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination shall, by law, be prohibited and punishable. The incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination between social strata shall, by law, also be prohibited and punishable.

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia

The reason I talk about America so much is because it's fascinating. It's all around us - in culture, commerce, politics... It's put a lot of effort in positioning itself as a beacon, a frontrunner and the pinnacle of Western civilization.

Then you look more closely, and lo: something's wrotten in this fine country. I'm reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and I see that it's been there for a while. But I wasn't aware of it growing up. All through the Nineties, America had a massively positive image around these parts. USAID, the Clinton government's support for Estonian independence and integration into the First World (OK, they could've been a bit faster to recognize us, but we'll let it slide) - it was easy to become enamoured with the faraway land of possibility. So what if their movies were silly.

I spent a month in South California in 2003; but by that time I was already heavily critical of America. So many things about it seemed infuriatingly, self-evidently backwards - not just different from the way they were at home, but wrong. I've never put much faith in the political leaders of my country, even the ones involved in the restoration of independence - but at least they were doing things right in a general way! But what I knew of America, of how it works on a real-life level, was disturbing and occasionally disgusting. The American dream that was so dear to me, had shattered.

More and more I found myself thinking, "What have you bastards done to my America?"

The reason this happened was that great American invention (by a British scientist in a Swiss research facility) - the World Wide Web. By the late 90s I had a Celeron 300 and a dialup account, and most people I met were Americans.

Because the audience of the Internet was (and remains, in vital terms) predominantly American, so was the content. But content is ubiquitous. Suddenly I, and thousands - then millions - of people like me had access to something which was previously Proprietary and Confidential. By natural means information and opinion had previously been segregated, bound to the western hemisphere. Limited to viewers and participants who took its peculiarities for granted.

But I didn't. The more I absorbed the real America, the more I was astonished, then outraged. This is the City on the Hill? What the fuck?

The Internet had exposed foreign markets to that which the American promotional machine did not want getting out - the American mindset. A mindset represented in - and now, heavily affected by - the Constitution, the prime law of the realm. Here in Estonia we've got a rather shiny new one, from 1992, and we like to show it off. It was written by a bunch of folks who had just liberated themselves from decades of occupation by a foreign agressors (and centuries by various others, before a short stab at independence in the 1920s-1940s). They had to make it work as the basis for the functioning of the entire country.

And the Americans are also quite proud of their Constitution. Oldest democracy in the world and all that, the Bill of Rights, liberty and justice for all. I'd skimmed it, and it seemed a trifle quaint, but essentially passable.

Just recently I had one more encounter (not my first) with that curious artefact of American thinking - the dichotomy between the people and the government. Even though in America elections can go down to the level of dog catcher, the government - and particularly the federal government - is seen as a destructive, evil monster, barely tolerated and certainly distrusted.

Now, this is a strange notion to an Estonian. In 15 years of independence, we've never - not once! - had a government last from one set of elections to another. Kicking the PM out of office is a routine affair, and the President doesn't actually meddle in any business of running the country. Hell, our Constitution starts out by stating, right there in Article 1, that the supreme power in the country belongs to its people. It's an idea that seems fundamentally, indisputably right - the only way it ought to be. Yet the Bill of Rights only has it in the 10th Amendment, which says that any power that the federal and state governments don't fancy for themselves gets handed down to the people.

Oh, fine - it's just political pretty talk, and it's the spirit of the Constitution that counts, not the letter. The Constitution is the ultimate expression of the will of the people, right? They've got freedom of speech and the press, religion, trial by jury, even that ridiculous weapons thing - but alright, freedom and all that.

The encounter I mentioned was a reaction to a newspaper article about a man wearing a T-shirt with Arabic writing on it, being kicked off an airplane. This, I said, was preposterous! Another example of the Bush administration and its lackeys spitting on essential civil liberties! The Constitution protects the man's right to self-expression!

The answer, from people who can in no way be considered Bush fans: "Um, no. The Constitution is just for what the government does. Private businesses can refuse service to anyone, for any reason."


OK, leave out the fact that airlines as providers of an essential public service have to play by slightly different rules from your local pub. The Constitution is just for the government?

Silly undereducated American, I thought. And went on Google to check the text of the Bill of Rights and find the right quote.

Except it wasn't there. The 1st Amendment says that Congress can't make a law that legalizes discrimination - but it doesn't mean discrimination is illegal! Hell, I understood why the text didn't mention equality on the basis of skin colour. But actually, if you read the text, the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination!

The main body of the US Constitution deals with checks & balances. They didn't bother thinking of the people until they were done with it, and had to amend it. Even then, there is no fundamental national law equivalent to the quote at the beginning of this article - something that you could not imagine a modern, democratic, free country and society without.

A nation's Constitution is a reflection of its mentality. It's quite obvious that the American mentality could use a major overhaul. Perhaps they should start with a new Consitution, one that lives up to all the hype.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Independence Day

On August 20th, 1991, Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union.

The Baltic Way was a live chain of people across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, two years earlier. It is a spectacularly inspirational sight, proving that great things can still be accomplished, in our time, without violence.

The ruins of the evil empire, traversed by the people who decided they were not going to stand for it any more.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Joel wants you...

...to want to do the dishes.

It's a reference to the trailer for a movie with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaugh, and it has been receiving its fair share of ridicule and incredulity on forums netwide. Joel, on the other hand, is an owner of a software development company, and something important in the IT blog community. And today's article recycles one of Joel's old points, that is: your employees should want to do a good job.

Now, part of Joel's point I agree with. It's ridiculous to use some sort of metrics to determine performance, because yes, people will either learn to cheat the system, or resent it and leave. Hell, I'm a technical writer, and mine is one of the hardest jobs in IT to measure (cf. old Dilbert comic about Tina the Tech Writer being told her performance review is based on lines of text: "Welcome to Tina's hourly newsletter, where I compare our products to various types of wood...").

However, no less ridiculous is the expectation that your employees will do a good job because they want to do a good job. This is one of those fundamental differences between Americans and Europeans that cannot be breached; it is things like this that make every Brit with enough experience to form an opinion to whole-heartedly declare that they'd be perfectly happy living in Estonia but would never for the life of them move to the States. And damn the language barrier.

The puritan roots of American mentality have grown into a work ethic where labour is its own reward. Joel may be a good employer by US standards - health insurance, benefits, good working conditions, good wages - but he still seems to think in the back of his mind that employment comes down to giving somebody enough money so that they don't get distracted by the vagaries of life from that which forms the essense of their existence: programming.

I'm sorry, but no. You are not defined by your job. Your job is something that you do for eight hours every weekday so that you can spend the rest of your time doing something you like. Now, eight hours every weekday is still a lot of time, so it makes sense to pick something you're good at and don't mind doing. But not more than that.

As a freelance translator and journalist, I have had to develop a fairly strict code of ethics. An employment contract is an agreement by two sides to take certain actions which are useful for the other party. As such, I will honour my commitment and as long as I am treated professionally by the employer, I will behave professionally towards them. (Incidentally, if I am not treated professionally, I feel no obligation whatsoever towards the employer; it's a necessary attitude as translators suffer some of the worst abuse in white-collar industries.) The company I work for is entitled to my professionalism, but not to my loyalty. They don't pay me nearly enough to get my loyalty.

And if I am asked, or volunteer, to go above and beyond that which is required of me by contract, so that the company may benefit, I fully expect to be appreciated. If I've spent a week working nights to get a feature ready for the next release, you're goddamn right I want a bonus.

The one, single, undiluted reason I spend fourty hours a week at the office is so that I can receive enough money to pay my expenses and have enough left over for an extra gig of RAM, a trip to Stockholm and a few pints with my friends. Now, my professionalism allows me to feel satisfaction for doing a good job, but if I were to win the Scandinavian lottery, I'd be out of here in a heartbeat, and I would not write a manual ever again.

Just as Jennifer wants Vince to want to do the dishes, so does Joel want you to want to work hard. Uh-huh, and in that case I want Joel to want to give me a large bag of money and a purple unicorn. Or, to quote Philo Janus commenting on Ms. Aniston's line: "Well, I want you to want to swallow!"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More on thought

The previous post was actually a reply on a forum (edited slightly). Here's the continuation:
Staying just ahead of the curve is ignoble, going off and doing something totally individual without regard to the curve. That's what modern-minded man never does.
You can't do anything without regard to the curve. You have been born and raised by the curve, and you are incapable of doing or thinking something which is not influenced by it. Progress is one-dimensional; you can do something that the curve isn't doing, but you can't get out of the curve's path because your initial thrust vector originates in the curve.

If you come up with something so beyond the general intellect of human society that it is never embraced, you are the only one who will ever know. The noble deed and outstanding thought are only such by recognition, and therefore they are not only of humanity, but of society.

Beyond the curve is the domain of the most fearsome beast ever encountered - Schroedinger's cat.
So, Flasher, do you think the realization of the problems posed by the Euthyphro dilemma is or is not "beyond the general intellect of human society"?

If it is, why is it then so famous? If not, then why are most people still using religion as the basis of their morality?
Well, the first point is that it's beyond the scope of philosophy. The Greek philosophers were essentially atheists, as ontology presumes there is a natural logic which is perceivable by the human mind - and that is incompatable with deity. ;) Classic philosophical works, most famously Socrates (as told by Plato, let's not forget) used gods as a rhetoric device.

However philosophy does definitely involve morals, so it's worth considering.

The answer lies in whether you believe in God and God's omnipotence, that is, do you believe that God has knowledge and wisdom beyond our understanding. If so, then "that which is moral - is moral because it is commanded by God". If, as Alexander Pope said, "wisdom infinite must form the best" - that is, if God has knowledge of things that apply to our world but are based in something greater, then we must defer judgement to a higher authority.

But if there is no supernatural being, and God is simply a product of human consciousness and reasoning - as real and practical in everyday terms as democracy or freedom - then morality is prime, and is defined by the complex organism of human society self-regulating. God is simply a mechanism to avoid having to explain macrosociology to every single person on Earth, and hope that they understand why moral behaviour serves the society in general, and through that, them personally.

Religion is like the military: a system created by geniuses for the benefit of idiots. Just as an army can exhibit inspired tactical and strategic manouvers without every single soldier having an IQ of 150 and being explained the general plan, so religion too achieves morality in society without justifying the ways of God to man.

Of course, as I said before with progress the average human becomes capable of perceiving more, and so any sufficiently developed civilization ends up with rampant atheism. When individuals behave in the best interests of society through personal conviction, not the threat of hellfire, religion becomes redundant.
So, Flasher, do you think the realization of the problems posed by the Euthyphro dilemma is or is not "beyond the general intellect of human society"?
It is well within the capacity, and it has been realized, that is, the answer to the question is obvious: since morality shifts not only with space and between different religions, but over time within one religion - the morals of Christianity today are different from the 1600s, those are different from the 1200s, and those are different from early Christianity - then there is no single set of absolute rules for morality. Moral is that which makes society function in an optimal way, and God prescribes whatever is right for the time.

If morality was decided by God, or otherwise perceived in its entirety by God and passed down to humanity in a simplified Penguin reader form, then it would be for our purposes absolute and universal, with no wiggle room.

The Greeks had a sense of history but not as good an experience of history as we do today. Diachronically the solution to the dilemma is simple: because morality changes over time, it is human and not divine in origin, as God is by definition eternal and unchanging, while humanity is by definition fleeting and ever altering. Even if you believe in God as a sentient being, you must accept that no code of morals available to us today is divine in origin. If you believe in God as a behavioural phenomenon (like I do), it's even simpler than that.

The argument is that of persuasion. The answer depends on whether you believe in God as a sentient being of transcendent wisdom. If you do, it's one, if you don't, it's the other. Note that if you ask a person on the street: "Is doing as God says right because God says so, or does God say it because it's right?" - the person will give it a bit of thought and come up with a more or less well-argued answer. Very few people will say sincerely, "I don't know and I don't know how to find out".

The real question though, the key question of meta-ontological philosophy, is this: Is the very concept of knowledge which is beyond human capacity to perceive, fundamentally human in nature?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

On thought

"The modern-minded man, although he believes profoundly in the wisdom of his period, must be presumed to be very modest about his personal powers. His highest hope is to think first what is about to be thought, to say what is about to be said, and to feel what is about to be felt; he has no wish to think better thoughts than his neighbors, to say things showing more insight, or to have emotions which are not those of some fashionable group, but only to be slightly ahead of others in point of time. Quite deliberately he suppresses what is individual in himself for the sake of the admiration of the herd."

-- Bertrand Russell, "On Being Modern-Minded," Unpopular Essays
Correct perception, incorrect analysis. It is not possible for a human being to have a thought which is outside the capacity of humans to have; and if there is an absolute, universal, ontological truth - it must be one that can occur to anyone. Arcane, secret knowledge does not scale.

In this case, truth = onto. The fundamental logical equation upon which all nature and humanity is based. The original goal of all philosophy. From the Greek "to on", meaning "that which is". Ontology is the search for the basis of existence, with a view to explain and understand it and not stumble about in the dark. The meaning of life essentially, only not confined to life.

Any thought that an exceptional thinker may have is but one that somebody else would have come upon later (and often enough, somebody has come upon before, but didn't have as good PR). All known philosophy which is in an imperfect sense true, that is, applicable to the perceived world in a useful way, has been created through a titanic effort by the outstanding thinkers of old. But to a modern man who had the benefit of modern schooling, it is self-evident. Both philosophers and students of philosophy like to talk in very complicated phrases - partly for snobbish exclusionism, partly because between two people proficient in the vernacular it really is a more efficient way of sharing ideas. Yet, once you get past all the pretty turn of phrase, the author's point can be summed up in a simple sentence.

Now, humanity's average capability for intelligent thought is not likely to increase very dramatically over time, at least not in the evolutionary blink of an eye we've had to develop philosophy (less than five thousand years); a historical genius, presented with the knowledge base of 2006 AD, would be able to do wonderful things with it.

The point being: any exceptional thought that a genius philosopher may have is inevitably going to be bloody obvious to people living some time after him. Thus it is moronic to suggest that staying ahead of the curve is ignoble. The tidal wave will assimilate you whatever you do. It's just a matter of the interval. Very smart people are far ahead of the surf, marginally above average ones are marginally ahead of it. (And the really smart ones don't get ahead of the surf at all - they point the wave in the right direction.)

Exceptional thought is always self-evident thought expressed before it became self-evident.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The comparative value of human life

There's a bit of dialogue in an old episode of West Wing that asks why the life of a resident of some faraway, Third World country is less valuable than the life of an American. The answer to that is, "I don't know, but it is."

Three and a half weeks of war in Lebanon so far, with reports of around 500 people killed north of the border. The Israeli death toll is at 75, over half of them soldiers. I don't think it will surprise anyone that in the Middle East, the life of a Jew is worth a lot more than the life of an Arab.

But there is another perspective on the global outrage concerning the civilian casualties in Lebanon that I have not seen considered anywhere. That being: since the US invasion in Iraq, no less than fourty thousand civilians have been killed. Now, admittedly, the vast majority of that has been at the hands of other Iraqis - but you can't argue that the bombings would not be happening had it not been for the invasion. I will not dispute that Saddam deserved to be put in jail, but at the same time there isn't really any reasonable way for the US government to avoid responsibility for the civil war in Iraq.

Where is the outrage?

Another geographical name that has not been heard in a while is Darfur. You may recall it - a place in Sudan, essentially an enormous refugee camp. As the result of a civil war, massive numbers of people were murdered. Now, this can't be pinned on the Americans, but the shear figures dwarf the Iraq body count. Seventy thousand by the most conservative estimate, as much as four hundred thousand by people who sound like they might know what they're talking about.

Where is the outrage?

Partially there's the PR machine to consider, but Iraq has been on the news for years. Footage for Darfur ran on MTV. Bono shed tears over it.

Fourty thousand Iraqis. Hundreds of thousands Africans. And the world shrugs it off. Five hundred Lebanese - and the world trembles with righteous indignation.

Here's another TV quote, this time from Yes Minister:

"The Letters JB in capitals are one of the highest Commonwealth honours. They stand for Jailed by the British. The order includes Gandhi, Nkrumah, Makarios, Ben Gurion, Kenyatta, Nheru, Mugabe and many other world leaders."

In much the same way, there is a superior distinction today in the eyes of Europe and a lot of America. The proudly displayed letters KJ: Killed by the Jews. There isn't really anything about the Lebanese that would endear them to the First World.

It's just that the value of a human life increases significantly if taken by an Israeli attack.


And a different, though related, point. I'm beginning to be terribly annoyed by people weeping publicly for the poor dead children of Lebanon, talking about how their humanity does not allow them to condone civilian deaths under any auspices whatsoever. I'm sorry, but this is pompous bullshit. If any of these self-righteous pricks gave a damn about the plight of the disadvantaged in faraway countries, they wouldn't be flaming me on the Internet - they'd be de-worming orphans in Somalia. Me, I at least admit to myself and anyone else that I've never met these people, their deaths do not affect me in any way whatsoever, so while intellectually it's unfortunate that they've been killed, at the end of the day I don't really care. But giving twenty bucks a year to the Red Cross does not give you the moral high ground and the right to assume the pose of Defender of the Meek.


One of my more astute purchases has been that of an Israeli Air Force T-shirt at the Hyatt Regency gift shop - before the start of the war. Have been wearing it for three days and haven't had my ass kicked yet, but according to Mutton, in London I'd be hospitalized within hours.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Fuck me...

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Gently with a Chainsaw, the diatribe of one Graham Strouse. At the absolute minimum it should be entertaining, and at the absolute maximum it will be directly responsible for the heat death of the universe. You've seen it here first.

Damn straight.

"We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Kill the Gibson

Nah, sorry, the title is just a geek in-joke. But in response to William Gibson's blog entry and as a general point:

I can understand and probably even agree that the solution to the Middle East crisis is not military. Not even the mighty IDF can win a guerilla war on foreign soil, and so far they seem to have the sense not to try, at least not to commit massive forces to a ground assault.

That, however, does not mean Israel could have reacted differently. It is in a fundamentally inferior position. For the Arabs, a defeat in Lebanon will be no more than a mild annoyance; they have suffered all-out military defeats before and have shrugged them off. The agenda opposing Israel is not the agenda of Nasrallah or Ahmadinejad or Hamas - it is the agenda of an ideology with a stranglehold on hundreds of millions of people. Unlike its enemies, Israel cannot afford even a single defeat, as this will mean the destruction of the country. (Europeans and particularly Americans seem mostly incapable of comprehending this. To them the idea that a country could cease to exist is preposterous in the context of the 21st century.) I've called Israel a generally Western place, but the Middle East is still quite medieval in its outlook; strength is the ultimate virtue, and Israel's existence is secured by the assurance of defeat for any challenger. This assurance must be maintained.

The paradigm in which Israel exists is less different from the paradigm of Hezbollah and Hamas than it is from the paradigm of someone living in Vancouver. I only have the capacity to appreciate this nuance because I come from a country that has fought fiercely for its independence against an incomprehensibly superior force, and had been betrayed by its supposed allies on several occasions.

So while I have the utmost respect for Gibson - he has the sort of ability to see into the heart of things that I admire even more than his mastery of language; basically I want to be him when I grow up - in this case any criticism or lament of the situation is academic unless accompanied by an effort to present a plausible exit strategy.

A total victory of Israel over Hezbollah and an establishment of a democratic, peaceful, moderate, lasting regime in Lebanon - the absolute best-case scenario - will not solve Israel's problem once and for all, and certainly neither will any likely outcome. But that doesn't mean Israel could choose not to fight this war. Whatever its generation.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday, July 16, 2006

IDF 0wnz j00

The men's room of the gate A63 lounge in Frankfurt International Airport has Fuck [something] soldiers scribbled on the wall. The [something] has been scratched out and replaced with Al Qaeda. I didn't have a pen on me at the time, but otherwise I was sorely tempted to commit this article's headline to the sideboard.

I suppose it is appropriate for me to express my position regarding the current war and the entire Middle East muddle; some may find it enlightening or at least useful.

The parties can be broadly considered as Israel on one side, with heavy backing from the US and occasional reluctant acknowledgement by Europe; and the Arab nations on the other. There is a crucial difference between the sides, lying in their long-term strategic goals, that is to say, why the war is being fought in the first place.

Israelis have no fundamental desire for expansion, other than the strategically useful pushing back of borders from major population centers (in case of Haifa, apparently not far back enough) and maybe a better hold on Jerusalem. Our guide in the city told us of Jewish attitude towards sanctity, and that it does not necessarily tie down to geographical locations. It was no big thing for Israel to return Sinai to Egypt in the negotiations following the Six Day War; the significance of the act of Moses receiving the commandments far outweighs the significance of the place where it happened. Besides, they don't really have a very good idea of where Mount Sinai actually is. There are two or three educated guesses, which seems curious, considering that otherwise Jerusalem is pretty well mapped to sites of biblical importance.

Naturally, I went up to the Western Wall when I had the chance. So did The Boss. When we came back, our guide asked him what he thought of it, and The Boss answered truthfully that it was just a bunch of really old rocks. This was exactly the answer our guide was looking for. The Wailing Wall is holy not because the temple of Solomon was housed beyond it, but because millions come there to contemplate the fate of a people.

Israelis claim and defend the country because this is the land of their forefathers, not because this is where religious events took place.

Israel's only objective in the conflict is to ensure its safety. I will admit freely that Israel does not respond proportionately. First, this is not in their nature (even more true for sabra than for other Jews). Second, Israel cannot possibly afford to go blow for blow with its neighbours. It is a nation of some 7 million, in a territory smaller than Estonia's. The tactical doctrine of one dead Jew resulting in a hundred dead Arabs, not to mention an air-to-ground missile up the arse of the leadership, is the only one available in such a situation. But Israel's main objective is simply to secure the continued existence of the state of Israel, acceptably within existing borders, and protect its citizens from attack.

On the other hand, the main objective of the Arab nations is the complete destruction of the state of Israel, acceptably accompanied by the destruction of the nation of Israel. This alone defines right and wrong clearly enough for any reasonable human being who takes a second to consider matters objectively. And yet the First World harbours a lot of sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden Palestinians in occupied territories.

People don't seem to recall how the lands got occupied in the first place. In 1967 the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon declared war on Israel and began a full military assault. Within six days, all the Arab nations were comprehensively fucked up by the vastly outnumbered IDF. Israel's counteroffensive netted it vast territories, many of which it conceded in subsequent negotiations. Only outside diplomatic pressure prevented Israeli tanks from rolling triumphantly into Cairo and Damascus. Gaza and the West Bank* remained under the control of Israel as spoils of a war which it did not start. The Arabs waged war, were defeated, and lost territory. Yeah, life sucks like that.

At this point, the argument of "whose land is it anyway?" usually diverts to the 1940s, the morality of Britain and the newly-formed UN establishing the country, and Jewish terrorism prior to it. All points that deserve consideration, but you know what? In 1909, sixty families got tired of Jews being discriminated against in Jaffa. They put their money together and bought a bunch of sand dunes north of the ancient city. They went out there, took a picture of all the families on the Mediterranean beach, then drew numbered shells to assign themselves plots of land along the newly formed Rothschild Boulevard. In less than a century the village grew into a mini-metropolis, a center of industry and finance, and the country around it into the world's biggest importer/exporter of diamonds. Tel Aviv's only real rival in the region is Dubai, built up with oil money. Israel has obviously done better with its land than any of the neighbours, and once you discount the desire for religious landmarks, this gives modern Israelis a claim to the territory superior to that of the Arabs who were here before them.

*The Hebrew Union College is a foundation of modern, progressive Judaism. When the land for it was ceded by the Jerusalem municipality, it was faced with a tough choice: on one hand there was no reason to deny the request, but on the other, the influential conservatives would not be happy with it. So the land was given in the worst slum of the city, overlooking the ravine between modern Jerusalem and the old town - at the time, part of Jordan. The neighbourhood was under constant threat from Jordanian snipers picking off the population. Then the Six Day War happened, Israeli special forces took old Jerusalem (today you can see all the pockmarks from the ammunition fired at the Lion's Gate to suppress enemy fire and enable a breach), and the plot was suddenly prime real estate. The terms of the lease were such that the land would revert to the municipality if it is not built up within 25 years. Short of time and money, the progressives initiated massive fundraising in the US and elsewhere. Today the HUC is a massively impressive campus, dotted with memorial plaques with names of individual contributors.

Friday, July 14, 2006

No Sleep Till Tallinn

Today's meetings at the head office were irrelevant to me, so I had the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing. The big diamond store around here sponsors a free tour of the city, which I was only too glad to take advantage of. Saw the Mediterranean beach and the promenade, Jaffa, the original Tel Aviv neighborhoods, and the diamond museum.

Israel has attacked a second Lebanese airport and instituted a naval blockade. Tel Aviv is on high alert, with gunships patrolling off the coast. The Blonde is convinced she'll be killed by stray gunfire or something.

Went out with The Boss and The Blonde in the evening. Took a cab to the Allenby/Rothschild Blvd area, and did some sweets shopping at the Max Brenner chocolate bar. Then we walked down Allenby to the promenade. Tel Aviv is not that big, and even then it is split into areas. Tel Aviv and Jaffa are technically one city, but Ramat Gan - the City, including the diamond exchange district - is not, although it is part of the Tel Aviv municipality. Allenby and Rothschild are the heart of Tel Aviv proper, built up before the formation of Israel in 1948. More than anything else this area looks colonial. If Ramat Gan could just as well be Shanghai, Allenby could just as well be Port-au-Prince.

I didn't have my swimming trunks with me, unfortunately, but I did walk down the beach and into the Mediterranean. Awesome feeling. Caught a cab up to Jaffa and walked around it for a bit, with The Blonde taking pictures of every cat and kitten encountered - and Jaffa has plenty of feline fauna. Landed in a pub called Bernhardt Show (ostensibly Bernard Shaw), at a table overlooking the sea. Toasted the IDF with Goldstar lager. Walked down the main street, looking for a cab and wondering at the fireworks. My first thought: the war is over, Israel tanks are in Beirut, and it's celebration.

No such luck. Returned to the hotel to find that rockets had been fired on Haifa, and the Israeli air force has attacked Beirut itself. The Sheraton City Tower overlooks a major train station, and I've seen soldiers walk up the ramps all afternoon - reservists called up and heading to their bases. Woke up in the morning to find cNN talking of more strikes on Beirut and the highway to Damascus. Russian channels show interviews with foreigners bugging out of Lebanon. The Israelis are properly pissed now, and it appears that things will get worse before they get better.

This post is going out on the Ben Gurion wifi a few minutes before boarding. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

State capital

In Tel Aviv and checked into the Sheraton City Tower. It's slightly better than the Regency - has a working safe and minibar - but WiFi still isn't free. Took a train up from Jerusalem - about twice the time it takes by car, but cheap (less than 5 Euro) and quite scenic.

Tel Aviv is a busy modern city, with skyscrapers and stuff. It definitely feels less exotic, and as such less friendly. Jerusalem is actually larger in terms of population, but Tel Aviv is a lot more humid and therefore less tolerable. The Sheraton is in the diamond exchange district, where office highrises mix with dilapidated shacks (whorehouses, apparently). The biggest problem I have with Tel Aviv so far is that it is generic - if you were teleported into a bit of it that has no streetsigns or shop names, you could justifiably think you were anywhere from Rotterdam to Hong Kong. In Jerusalem even the spanking highrises are covered with Jerusalem stone (an actual type of stone), it's the law apparently. That lends the city authenticity, continuity and cohesion. You feel like you're in an actual place. Whereas the capital, with the exception of the fact that you can't get any proper food on Saturday, is simply a branch office of the global economy. With the same glass and chrome buildings, the same noise, and the same Sheraton hotel.

Went out for a meal with the rest of The Stereotypes. Chicken kebabs and the typical local selection of crap to put on bread or chips (in the British sense, mind you). Tried hummus finally. It's bean paste - not bad at all, actually.

The TV is showing IDF press conferences. Reserve troops have been called out; the country seems to be bracing itself for a large-scale military offensive.

Warzone update: Woke up to find the CNN talking about Katyusha attacks on a north Israeli town. During the night the IDF airforce blew the fuck out of Beirut International Airport. I got my Israel Airforce T-shirt two days ago...

Tinfoil update: The person who was in the hotel room before me blocked off the movement sensor with a postcard, so all through the night the electricity would switch off every once in a while, and only turn back on if I opened and closed the door. Took me a while to figure that one out.

The Blonde is getting freaked out, but our tickets are not exchangeable and to buy a ticket at the last minute would be prohibitively expensive - lots of people bugging out right now. Our flight is tomorrow after 4pm; checkout from the hotel is 12am, and while I'd prefer to stick around and see a bit of the city, it looks like tomorrow morning The Stereotypes are getting the fuck out of Dodge.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


 Hesbollah forces attacked northern Israel today. Israeli tanks have crossed the border, and the IDF air force has hit targets in Lebanon. Our hosts are frantically communicating with extended family. The instructor says: "This is how Israeli soldiers fight. With one hand they're fighting, and with the other they're talking to their mothers."

Dead Sea's out, but we'll all be going back on Friday - probably. This looks like it may be the beginning of an actual ground war. Hopefully not.

OK, now I'm feeling apprehensive.

Notes from a hot country

  • Dead Sea is still on for tomorrow, but since it cost the employer a shiteload of money to get us out here (would've been cheaper if they'd bothered to book the hotel and airplane tickets in advance!), The Boss will stay in Israel till Sunday to complete the course - which is actually entirely unnecessary as today was about learning the software. The Boss doesn't write any more, his time is occupied well enough just being The Boss.

  • Met a bunch of local technical writers today. It's quite a scene in Israel, and the contrast is very interesting. Whereas in this country and in the US, a tech writer is a person of 40-something that has lots of cats, in Estonia the few people in this profession (by our estimation no more than 20 in the entire country) are very young; our own team only scrapes together a semi-reasonable median age on the backs of The Boss and Tank, who are 28. We are young, urban IT professionals with above-average income; the new Estonian yuppies.

  • I may have done mostly the tourist route in Jerusalem, but so far, I have seen nothing that would inspire me to go and blow myself up. In fact I have felt more apprehensive walking through inner-city Stockholm (which is preposterous) than I have in Jerusalem. The truth is that with all the security, there is very little street crime, and this is one of the safest places in the world to be a tourist.

  • Jerusalem traffic is insane, but there seems to be a method to the madness. Most cars in Israel are white, and I have noticed a very surprising number of Subaru Imprezas: the non-WRX version of the car is actually very mediocre, but here there's plenty of 1.6 and 1.8 versions. Who would need AWD in this climate?

  • Police cars drive around with the lights on (though no sirens). Nobody gives a flying fuck. In Estonia a police car under full illumination will have people pulling over to give it way. Not here.

  • Jerusalem's drivers rarely bother fixing bodywork. Dings are commonplace and largely ignored. I suspect it's similar to Paris in that regard.

  • In the same way as Estonians loathe the cold, Israelis loathe the heat. What they complain about as hot, we consider a very pleasant temperature. This is specifically applicable to air conditioning inside buildings. If our host had her way, the office would be positively cryogenic.

  • Israel in general is yellow to the same extent that Estonia is green. Our guide told us a secret: that Jerusalem is really full of hidden inner courtyards of astounding beauty. Hidden behind tall walls, they are a representation of the larger aspect of living in the desert: on the outside it looks inhospitable, but if you can get to the center, you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Sabra is a cactus flower, a fruit you can buy in the market. It is also the colloquial name for a native Israeli. (If you've seen the movie Munich, you've probably noticed it.) The metaphor is much the same: it is hard and prickly on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside.
  • Taking the train tonight to Tel Aviv. Should be a very scenic trip. Canon A620 at the ready.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tinfoil update

My jeans tore yesterday. They were old, I have another pair with me, plus dress trousers, plus bermuda shorts. Still annoying though.

The Boss has come down with a fever and is back at the hotel, suffering. The Blonde has a cold. I'm the last man standing.

The plan was to drive out to the Dead Sea tomorrow, and then head straight back to Tel Aviv to check into the Sheraton City Tower. Not sure now if that will happen.


Sunday was an uneventful day of work - met our instructor, who turned out to be infinitely cool. The most important thing I've learned so far though was that through osmosis, by figuring out what works and what doesn't, our team has learned most of what there is to learn about technical writing. It's highly vindicating. Most of us remember the time before the employer's major leap, when the Estonian branch had a corporate neurosis about not feeling like a real company. This translated to us: there is no history of technical writing in Estonia (I myself was, in all likelihood, the first person to actually carry the title back in 2002), and we simply had no frame of reference. Were we world-class? Did we completely suck? Could we use Microsoft as a quality yardstick, and then, how to measure that quality? As it turns out, we are as good as just about anyone in the real world, and better than a large amount of folks holding down jobs as technical writers. While not necessarily praising the state of the industry, it does make me feel good about myself and my coworkers.

Went out that night to watch the game. Osho pub in downtown Jerusalem, where we had some very nice Israeli wine (Galil Hills merlot) and some decidedly un-kosher food. I wonder if McDonalds serves cheeseburgers.

Today was awesome. One of our local colleagues that was there for the training used to do a regular three-day walking tour of Jerusalem, so he gave us the abbreviated 5-hour version. From the modern midtown market, down the pedestrian streets, out to the gardens and the Hebrew Union College, through Hell Valley and up past Sultan's Pool, through the main sites of the old city - all commented, with stories and explanations of significance. Enjoyed it tremendously. Took lots of pictures, including a few of the wall (visible in the distance) - I've flamed so much on the topic, on CoT and in other places, that I sort of had to.

Finished off the night in Spagettim, the Italian restaurant, where The Blonde and I had some very decent lasagne (with meat!), and The Boss had pasta with ham. Sic. I thought they simply wouldn't let shipments across the border, but apparently you can not only get non-kosher food in Jerusalem, you can even get pork.

Meat is actually a bit of an issue. Take the Regency's breakfast buffet, for example. They had the unenviable task of ensuring that guests do not mix meat with dairy. They solved the situation elegantly, by foregoing meat altogether. Generally Israelis do not eat very much meat, replacing it with truly outstanding baked goods. I'm a convinced carnivore - if God did not want us to eat animals, he would not have created them out of food - but even I have to admit, in this weather the local cuisine does actually work very well. Where Spaniards will not give up meat, instead instituting a period of rest to digest lunch, the Israelis simply modify their diet to suit the conditions. Like I said, it works.

Gave our guide a bottle of Vana Tallinn. It's more or less a condition of citizenship that you have to give people abroad Vana Tallinn. It is the landmark Estonian booze, although almost no Estonians drink it. It's 45% (sic) liqueur. Use your imagination.

Meeting a bunch of local tech writers tomorrow, and going to the Dead Sea on Wednesday. Updates will come as interesting stuff happens.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

We're not in Kansas any more...

Arrived in Jerusalem, and so far The Stereotypes have singularly failed to get blown up. We fully intend to keep up the good work, although at this point I'm starting to wonder.

For the last several days I've been having a streak of small annoyances - tiny bits of bad luck, of no real significance really, but enough to notice. The Boss commented that me and reality are not on the best of terms at this point, and I need to consider wearing a tinfoil hat.

The curse (or rather cursoid) does not seem to diminish with geography. The guy next to me on the Lufthansa commuter flight to Frankfurt seemed at first like a nice enough man - what's known as a "väliseestlane", born into a family of WWII-period Estonian refugees to the West, in this case Toronto. Eventually I asked him what he did for a living. Nothing; he's a missionary volunteer; a Jehova's Witness. He showed remarkable restraint, but did end up trying to convert me. I told him about Popper's falsifiers and Adams' puddle argument, but I should've known better than to try to use reason and common sense, really.

Frankfurt Airport, if not depressing, is at least surprising. As Lufthansa's main hub and a huge international half way point, I'd expect it to be a tad more impressive. Instead it feels old and industrial. Our connection was fairly tight (only an hour to get from the commuter parked in the ass end of nowhere to a 747 skybridge); we made it, but it involved a lot of walking and two separate security checks.

This was my first time on a Jumbo Jet, and I can see Clarkson's point - it's a lot more pleasant a place to be than the Triple Seven I rode to California a couple years back. A less than four-hour hop down to Tel Aviv was entirely unstressful, save for a slightly exciting landing.

There is an island somewhere in the Caribbean whose major attraction is the fact that it consists almost entirely of a runway, with a beach at either end; on this runway lands a weekly Air France 747. The runway is still fairly short, so the plane comes in very exactly, touching down at the edge; supposedly the experience of a heavy airliner gliding just above your head is one-of-a-kind indeed. But the sensation of being in one as it powerslides at low altitude onto Ben Gurion's main landing strip is not something to ignore.

I am by no means the world's least suspicious traveller, which is kind of ironic, considering I'm a very law-abiding one. I may have mentioned that I repeatedly get stopped by customs in Stockholm's Frihamn seaport, but in this case the customs guys were the only ones utterly disinterested. Israeli security actually took me aside at the exit gate, though the agent was satisfied by my story and the fact that I actually had something with the employer's logo on it with me.

Ben Gurion is actually a very pretty building. It's distinctive, local, and looks like somebody actually put some thought into both planning and decorating it. I remarked on this as my queue for passport control promptly ground to a halt, and kept thinking it as I was questioned again by a second agent at the airside exit, this one only made happy by the sight of my return ticket and a promise not to go anywhere except Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specifically not Ramallah.

Israel has a smaller territory than Estonia, but over three times the population. I had thought Jerusalem would be a longer trip than it was; the highway is of very good quality and the scenery is awesome. I'd long since lost any feeling of exotic travelling through Europe, but this country really feels like it's somewhere different. My understanding had been that Israel is still fundamentally a Western state, but now I'm starting to wonder.

The Regency hotel in Jerusalem is advertised as five-star luxury accomodation. If your understanding of hospitality is calibrated for Europe, as mine is, you will be sorely disappointed. The building itself is extremely impressive, a pyramid carved into the side of a mountain, if quite hard to find (our cabbie - equipped with an address, a map and a tinfoil-suggesting engine issue half way down from the airport - failed to deliver us there without the aid of a local colleague). But it was built a long time ago, and nobody has bothered to renovate it since. My first suspicion arose during checkin, when I saw that the WiFi was not free. The room only extended my disappointment. Maybe this was five-star stuff in the 1970s, in an age before laptops, MP3 players and digital cameras, when it was not presumed that a traveller may have any need to extract electricity. The room has a desk, letterhead paper and envelopes - but, curiously, no pen; and infuriatingly, no sockets in sight. The power cables from the desk lamp and paleolithic TV set snake off into the nether regions behind the cupboard and bed. I found an outlet eventually, just the one - hidden behind the curtain in the bottom corner of the wall, quite possibly the least useful possible spot.

Company policy states the laptop needs to be left in the room's safe when leaving the hotel without it. The safe, never mind that it's too small to fit the thing in the first place, does not actually work. There's a minibar, and I'll give you three guesses about that.

I'm typing this up on my laptop on Saturday night, saving it in a Notepad file. Hope to post it tomorrow or whenever I get to a working network connection. On the upside, I've got some very nice pictures that I'll be posting. Stay tuned for more!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Off to the Holy Land

I love travel. Whereas most people enjoy visiting a foreign place, I am actually also rather partial to the process of getting there. The prevailing sentiment is that airports are the hubs of Hell, I've always liked the feel of being there, the sensation that everyone is either going places or coming home. (If you've seen the movie Love, Actually, you'll recognize the notion.) I also haven't done enough air travel to generate familiarity.

Me and two of my coworkers are going to Israel tomorrow, for business. The Boss is a tall, scrawny man that not only looks like a geek, but relishes it. He is a Dungeon Master, and has more geek pride than anyone I've ever met. The Blonde is one of my old acquaintances from Posh Uni. She's the object of all the blonde jokes here in the Document Lounge, and doesn't seem to get offended. She's not dumb, but she is a blonde, and she does like pink fluffy things and kittens. Include me - a big bloke with facial hair and the wardrobe of a Hell's Angels prospect - and you may as well collectively call us The Stereotypes.

I've had longer journeys than the one I'm facing tomorrow, and less comfortable ones (it's coach class air travel, but it's Lufthansa at least), but I'm still preparing for it. Today's last-minut lunchbreak shopping included a couple of books, despite the fact that I've got half a dozen DVDs at the ready. The Boss is omnivorous in terms of reading material, but alas I am more discerning, so I've been lucky to find something even remotely promising in the Tartu bookshop. I also intended to stock up on sun tan lotion, but didn't. The sort of "SPF Fuck" sunblock that I'm after is quite expensive in Estonia and, I presume, ubiquitous in Israel; besides, I remembered what a native of Arizona once told me. Some of the palest people you will ever meet come from Las Vegas; in the middle of the desert, civilization is constructed so as to limit sun exposure to an absolute minimum.

I'm carrying new toys - a Dell Latitude D620 and a Canon PowerShot A620, both clad in ballistic nylon - so I'll do my best to document the journey and post updates from the road.

And yes, I'm typing this up on the laptop, reclining on a bright red leather couch in a nook of the Document Lounge. I feel so Web 2.0.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Estonica: National

As Estonia's economy soars at almost 10% annual growth on the back of international business, the message to foreign investors is: We really like you guys and are happy to be working with you, just please don't move here.

Estonians are nationalistic. It would be wrong to call them xenophobes; they are a small nation, and smart enough to realize that they cannot survive and prosper without interaction with others. But, while modern middle-class Estonians love to travel, they are not particularly happy about anyone coming over here.

You can see where they're coming from. Estonia has been conquered by more or less everyone in the general vicinity (would you believe, Poland?), and recent history has not shown it to be in any way beneficial. Estonians don't actually hold grudges as a nation; they're quite happy dealing with Germans, Swedes, Danes - yes, even Poles. The enmity between Estonians and Russians will disappear over time; as generations change, people who have never lived under occupation will have no reason to treat Russians with undue contempt. Local Russian-speakers have mostly done well to integrate into a national society, and tourists from Moscow and St. Petersburg are actually quite welcome; they spend lots of money and behave a lot better than the drunk Finns* or British stag parties. But Estonians still have every cause to dislike foreigners.

This might be a major part of the reason for Estonia's IT miracle, the staple of the booming new economy. The funny thing about globalization in the early 21st century is that it actually allows national cultures to be preserved better. Local programmers can be a part of the worldwide workforce, right at the leading edge of the industry (Kazaa, Skype and Hotmail were all developed by Estonians) without necessarily having to turn the country into a 51st state. My employer, who you have never heard of unless you're in the industry, but whose major customers are household names all over the 'Net, is a shining example of how a multinational enterprise can become hugely successful by using passionate southerners for customer relations purposes, leaving the technical solutions to cold, methodical northerners.

In a connected world, multiculturalism may soon outlive its usefulness; prosperity can be spread to outlying territories without imposition of alien values or lifestyles. Tolerance for other cultures may effectively give way to a mild form of nationalism, with ethnocentric states acting as fully functional elements of the global economy. There is no compelling reason for thousands of Indians to move to London if they can have a decent quality of life back at home.

*Finns are Estonians' cousins and the two countries are closely aligned in political terms, plenty of Estonians have family across the bay, and generally Finns are well-liked; but the vodka tourists are still fucking annoying.

Monday, June 26, 2006


In the news today (well, a few days ago but I saw it on this morning's repeat of the Friday night news): a band member of Pink Floyd has travelled to the Middle East with a coterie of cameras and got himself all sad looking at the barrier between Israel and the West Bank. He even wrote "Tear down the wall" on the stones with a black marker.

WTF? Israel is making it complicated for West Bank residents to get through the checkpoints because it's a fucking national border for all intents and purposes. It's not supposed to be easy. Yes, I realize that the arabs all have menial jobs in Israel (which apparently still pay better than anything in the West Bank) so they need to cross the border twice daily, but you know what? Tough cookies. The wall has shown itself to be effective against suicide bombers, and it's the biggest step so far to actually solving the bloody mess over there. If we assume that the man had actually taken a moment to grasp what he was doing there, calling for the wall to be torn down is effectively giving up the hope of "get rid of the occupants and let the residents have their own nation" for "why oh why can't the Jews and Arabs live together in harmony?".

I guess all that Pink Floyd cash buys a personal reality distortion generator whose power exceeds even the natural abilities of Bob Geldof.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cause and pretense

My high school history teacher had a question that she would use to trip up students. In fact, the main thing she tried to do was to teach the kids to answer this question correctly; dates can be looked up, but this one ability is all you need to really benefit from studying history.

The question is: for [x] war, what were the causes and the pretenses?

I've talked about war before (twice), but let me just reiterate: war is almost always the last option. Unless one force is incomparably more powerful than the other, both will do everything they can to avoid it.

Unfortunately, wars do still break out with more frequency than we would like. And when they do, the leaders will justify the action to their people, their peers, and themselves. Noble concepts like freedom and democracy will be invoked. But off the top of my head, I can't really name an instance of the successful seeding of democracy by Big Brother's guns.

I see no way of eliminating wars, but we can do our best to avoid them. For that, we must understand why they happen. Remember this: wars do not happen because of their pretense.

The Iraq war has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction (which don't exist) or liberating the people (who haven't seen much improvement). The Chechnya wars had nothing to do with independence. The Middle East conflict has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Human conflict is too primal a matter to come about as the result of philosophical discrepancies.

The practical upshot is that once we find the actual causes of wars, we can dispel the myths that prevent us from solving issues most efficiently. I support Israel and its right to defend itself with force, but I do not believe that the billion muslims in the world occupy themselves with plans to murder the other five billion. I support Europe and its way of life, but I do not believe that in twenty years we will all be speaking Chinese. I dislike black pop culture, but I do not believe blacks to be an inferior race.

Human actions are nearly always driven by fundamental motivators. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, if you will (actually liberty is the odd one out - the general population is perfectly happy to live under a reasonably benevolent dictator). This post was inspired by a forum discussion of muslim immigrants being a threat to Europe - and the concern is justified, but here's the problem: a third-generation Moroccan kid, born, raised and educated in Rotterdam, speaking not a word of Arabic, will be a European first and a muslim a distant second.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

ESC 2006

OK. I was wrong.

Congratulations to Finland. Hey, maybe next year you can send Loituma?

It seems like Eurovision is falling into a pattern where it is alternately won by silly pop and genuinely decent songs. Ukraine's winning entry was excellent.

But for my money, it still should've been Lithuania!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Infrastructure and industry

"Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid."

Can we please start making a difference between foreign aid and humanitarian aid? The purpose of foreign aid is to improve the overall economic situation in the receiving country, long term. The money immigrants send back gets spent on food, clothing and medication, not on establishing infrastructure and industry. That's not foreign aid, that's charity.

The fact that each next generation does the same thing - emigrate to support their families at home - is the glaring proof that it doesn't work as foreign aid. As humanitarian aid, it does, but the reason why masses of people leave a country to find work is because there is no work in the home country, and there is no work because there is no infrastructure.

The kid of a Mexican burger cook will not use the money to go to university. Not because he won't want to, of course. But because there's no education to be had, in a Mexican town, for what a burger cook can spare, that would allow the kid to get a job at an investment bank.

To drag an economy out of a ditch, you need industry, and to get industry, you need infrastructure. The purpose of foreign aid is to stabilize the regime, and the proper usage of the money is to build a road network, power plants, establish a qualified labour force, etc. You get this rather large lump of cash and you go out shopping for infrastructure, making big up-front investments to end up with a situation where industry would be attracted to the cheap and qualified labour. Once you have proper facilities within your country that pump money into the economy, you are on your way.

Money sent back by immigrants goes into the lower wrungs of the service sector - food and healthcare. A service economy is called post-industrial for a reason: it comes about as the result of a successful industry initiating a self-sustaining reaction. When you have high local demand for skilled craftsmen, that demand will create the facilities for supply, i.e. good local education. In a healthy industrial nation with easy access to world-class education, it is easy for the son of a factory worker to end up in an investment bank.

But Flasher, I live in [random Third World country], and I see parents spending inordinate amounts of income on kids' educations!

So how come after generations of immigrants sending money back to their families, the population is still predominantly impoverished with no chance of improvement? The desire and effort of going to school are commendable, but if there are no good trade schools, industrial corporations will not want to establish factories there, and if there are no factories to take in graduates, there won't be any good trade schools. It's a vicious circle that can only be broken by dumping huge amounts of up-front investment into creating the infrastructure for industry out of nothing.

I live in a country where what I describe happened, and was successful. Estonia has a great economy, to a large extent because of the inordinate amounts of US (early-mid 90s) and EU (more recently) cash being trebuched in our general direction.

Foreign aid, as opposed to humanitarian aid, is given with restrictions. See the example of US foreign aid carrying the rider that it can only be spent at US companies. A great example of this working beautifully is Israel. In this way foreign aid serves two purposes - helping out another country (and thus creating a market both now and in the future), as well as dumping cash into one's local economy without causing mad inflation.

There is a known way for a rich country to spend money on making a poor country rich. This is not charity, as it is in the best interests of the rich country - not just politically but economically. But humanitarian aid, even in the efficient form of migrant workers sending money back to their families, ain't it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Content vs Commentary

I know I've talked about the matter before, so I apologize, but the exchange in the above link is too good to pass up.

Although blogs are still a fairly minor phenomenon in readership if not visibility, there is certainly a subculture of bloggers, with its own set of virtues. The object of adoration for bloggers is content, and the ability to produce content is central to any blogger's sense of self-worth.

Now, because the phenomenon of blogs can be traced back to before simple tools became widely available, there are two interconnected, but distinct types of blog. The newer type, of which AnTyx is an example*, consists of articles. The older type consists of links to interesting articles elsewhere. While it may seem like content aggregators are a Web 2.0 thing, they have actually been around in the time of Web 1.0. In fact they were around in the time of Web 0.1, a time before Google, when actually finding content was a task upon itself.

Jalopnik, as a business venture and part of the Gawker corporation, is an aggregator. They have recently started posting reviews and road tests, but most of the website is filled with links to articles, news or just random stuff on other websites.

It's different from a category on Reddit by the fact that they provide a paragraph or so of commentary. And this seems to give them a huge sense of self-importance, closely intertwined with insecurity, about being a source of content. Most of the time, they are not, even if they do think themselves good enough to regularly criticize actual print media**. Being called an aggregator is, in blog circles, a mortal insult.

* I'm not a blogger, thank you. I'm a writer, a technical writer by day job, a linguist by education, a journalist by experience. AnTyx has a very minor readership - two dozen daily visitors or so - and its only point is as an archive. When I write something, I want to see it freely available. If nobody cares, that's fine.

** I called Robert Farago on his "Between the Lines" thing, and he asked for my credentials. Since a reader of AnTyx may have legitimate reason to ask, "and who the fuck are you, Flasher T, to criticize others?", I'll be happy to present them. I've written for mainstream media since I was 11, briefly ran the automotive section of IGN.com, and freelanced for the entertainment section of the Baltic Times before deciding I'd had enough of the bullshit and I'd really much rather work in a software development company. Jalopnik brushes off demands for basic literacy with the argument that they've never claimed to be either professional or writers; well, I'm both, and I say that a blogger nitpicking on the work of people who actually managed to get a job at a proper newspaper is at best sour grapes, and much more likely simply being a dick.


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