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.


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