Sunday, February 25, 2007

Via Hell Incorporated!

So, Lordi rocked.

No pictures, unfortunately, as the security confiscated my camera half way through the show and wiped the memory card (sorry Aleksei!). But it was a fair cop - my hip-holster is an unorthodox, though very convenient, way to carry a camera as poorly concealable as the Canon A620, and I knew from the start that cameras were not allowed at the event. I was in second row center, with some little Finnish girl in front of me singularly failing to obscure my view of the stage, and did all the headbanging I wanted - so the lack of pics is compensation: were I in the back rows, I couldn't have gotten decent pics at all.

It was a full-length show, no warmup and ended fairly early (because of all the little kids), but otherwise max strength: the only song they didn't do which I would've liked to hear was Supermonstars. And, hey, I got a T-shirt.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Estonica: Oracle

In the immortal words of Will Smith, Why don't you exercise your right to shut the fuck up?!

Among Estonian news outlets one stands out - Delfi. A purely online venture, it was the first to allow people to comment on news articles, and has grown to be the traditional platform for such. Of course, the sort of people who spend their time commenting news articles are a particular bunch. Imagine the Slashdot effect with mainstream local news.

At one point, the Reform justice minister Rein Lang argued for a bill that would make Internet commenters liable for their words on par with journalists. I don't recall now if it was ever passed, but there was at least one test case, where a skinhead type was sentenced to a minor suspended jail term for incitement of hatred. The Delfi people began to keep slightly better track of what was going on in the comments, but it was still a constant flame war. You have no idea how many times I wanted to go into the comments section of a news article on the rising average salary, and tell all the folks screaming about how it's a fake statistic to maybe stop spending all their time in Delfi comments and start doing some actual work, maybe then they'd be earning that sort of money. (Which would also be deliciously ironic from a guy who writes a blog and has an RSS feed a mile long.)

Recently our president gave an interview to the BBC's Russian service (source). In this interview he reiterated the position that while the Nazis lost and the Soviets won in WWII, neither of them were welcome in Estonia in the 40s, nor later; and since it was the Soviets who occupied the country for fifty years, deported tens of thousands of Estonians, etc., it's hardly surprising to find that today Estonians have mixed feelings about a heroic monument to a Red Army soldier in the middle of their capital.

Cue Delfi reprinting a Russian government news agency's press release, with the headline:
Soviet forces that fought the fascists were a gang of bandits - Ilves
and delicious misquotes like
the president said that he does not see a problem in the fact that some Russians in Estonia are denied citizenship and discriminated against.
Every time people in Russia start talking about discrimination of Russian population in Estonia, I challenge them to go and find the people being discriminated.

The Delfi dance continued yesterday, with a magic mismatch in the Estonian and Russian editions of the venerable news outlet. What happened was that members of the Estonian National Movement attempted to ceremonially place a memorial wreath to the victims of the Soviet occupation at the Bronze Soldier memorial. And got their asses kicked by the Night Watch, a Russian "honor guard" at the site.

Delfi EE: Nationalists beaten up at Pronksmees. On Friday afternoon, a Russian mob attacked members of the Estonian National Movement who went to Tõnismägi to lay down a memorial wreath for victims of the Red Army.

Delfi RU: Conflict at the Bronze Soldier. According to reports by the Night Watch and the Constitution Party, (a pro-Russian fringe party - FT) a fight broke out near the Bronze Soldier on Tõnismäe: skinheads attacked veterans who were bringing flowers to the memorial.

The article was quickly updated with a translation of the Estonian text, but that first paragraph still stands. How many people, do you think, will read the whole thing through before deciding it was a bunch of neonazi fascist scum attacking some peaceful Russian veterans come to pay tribute to their fallen comrades? And remember, this is the prime news source for people in Russia who make some attempt at least to get an Estonian perspective on things.

Delfi is a successful business venture that caters to its audience. Of course, for them integrity is not a line item. They are just one more example of how Moscow, and its associates - willing or unwilling, informed or ignorant, fully conscious or blinded by propaganda - manipulate the truth to make this country and nation seem like the ultimate bad guys.

As for Delfi commenters, my boss said it best: it may be entertaining to read what people write on the toilet wall, but eventually you just have to paint it over.

Happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Urban Pop Art

Apparently being done in Ramenskoe, a satellite city of Moscow.

Estonica: Wordplay

Silly season indeed. As both frontrunners and hopefuls scramble for those last few percentage points, the election season in Estonia generates some proper howlers.

Exhibit A: The Centrist party, which is going after the Russian vote (for lack of any credible Russian parties) and is affiliated with the Putin Racing Team over eastwards, is making noises about backing down on the border treaty.

A bit of backstory for those just joining us. Ever since 1991 and the restoration of independence, Estonia's border with Russia has been tentative. Officially Estonia maintains that the correct border line is that of the Tartu Peace Accord of 1920, which ended the Liberation War (which Estonia won and Soviet Russia lost). This is the border of the first Republic, the one which was valid from 1920 to the events of WWII and the occupation. On the other hand, the de facto border is the one that was set as the administrative border of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic; the struggle for independence in the late 1980s placed a significance on the administrative borders. The difference is in Russia's favor, a bit of land on the other side of the Narva river (which we don't fancy anyway) and a sizeable chunk down south, where a tiny people called the Setu live. Setu are closely related to Estonians, the languages are in the same family, etc.

Some time ago, the Estonian and Russian foreign ministries finally drew up a border treaty, that would make the current de-facto border also the legal one. There were protests at home, but the overall sentiment was that the treaty was more important: the Setu could have Estonian citizenship anyway (as descendants of citizens of the first Republic). Yes, it was unfortunate, but that's life. So the treaty was drawn up, and signed by foreign ministers. There was a gentlemen's agreement that the treaty would be expedited and ratified without further posturing.

But unlike Russia, Estonia's parliament is actually an independent body with significant opposition, and coalition backbenchers who don't mind putting one over the party bosses when the opportunity presents itself. The treaty was actually ratified, but the bill that signed it into law was passed with a minor amendment - a preface that mentioned the Tartu Peace Accord (which is a cornerstone document of the Estonian nationhood, mentioned in the Constitution, etc.). This was an internal document with no international significance, the treaty itself was not modified in any way, and anyway the preface is not the same as the body of the law. From a legal standpoint, the border was finalized.

However, Russia really hates admitting defeat, especially from poor little Estonia, and any mention of the Tartu settlement sends the Kremlin into fits of hysteria. So the Russian foreign ministry actually recalled its signature of the treaty. It grew into an international mess, and the EU backed Estonia: it's all kosher, and what we do in our internal legislation is none of Russia's business. But the treaty remained unsigned.

In yesterday's evening news, Team Savisaar's figureheads were talking about having the parliament denounce the preface. This would almost certainly satisfy the Russians, but it's a point of principle and the only way the Centrists could pull it off was to get an absolute majority in the upcoming elections - and even then, they'd be chased out of town on a rail. This is either an all-or-nothing effort by the Centrists to get the irregular vote, or an escape plan to keep face with their Putinite allies, with the prospect of four years in opposition.

But more important than all of that, is the way Edgar's boys were talking about it. I've argued with Russians endlessly about the treaty, and the internal propaganda there promotes a completely un-factual understanding of the issue: most people in Russia think that the text of the treaty itself was changed. This is, of course, a lie. But the Centrist interviews were carefully constructed to maintain this impression. This sort of pandering to Russian foreign policy is a new low even for Savisaar.

Exhibit B: A new "brought to you by" ad from IRL. The party's other figurehead is Jaak Aaviksoo, the former head of the University of Tartu, and a fairly prominent personality, even if he is terminally dull. There was an ad earlier with him playing Morpheus in the white background, sliding display-case scene from the Matrix movie. The display-case in that ad featured computers and books and stuff, to play up Aaviksoo's educational connotation. Which was fair enough.

Now, they have the similar scene with Mart Laar, but instead of display-cases what you get is the backdrop of the Unknown Soldier memorial, with Soviet symbology in place of the Pronksmees - a red five-point star, a hammer and sickle, and... a K-kohuke wrapper.

Backstory again, in the municipal elections the Centrist party tried to circumvent the ban on election advertising in public spaces by having a friendly dairy owner release a line of milky treats in a wrapper that closely mimicked the Savisaar logo and trademark green. This was a massive scandal, but the courts found the campaign to be legitimate - and the upshot is that now, everyone can take the piss out of K-kohuke without the Centrists being able to complain to the regulatory bodies, and the public knows well enough what the point is.

In the TV ad, Mart Laar was properly angry. Very unlike him, but maybe it's an image augmentation that he needs.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Estonica: Cinematic

You know those "brought to you by" commercials that appear at the start and end of a particular TV show or movie ad break?

Yeah, just saw one of those for Isamaa - Res Publica Liit. They're sponsoring Prime, a movie about a middle-aged woman, her very young lover and his very Jewish mother, who also happens to be the woman's therapist.

I think the implication is that IRL is the family values party - "happiness is not about money" and all that. I'm not sure if they're correctly identifying their target audience though. This is a movie that appeals to late-20s/30s professional women who have no time for a love life and feel bad about it.

Anyway, the silly season is obviously under full throttle now.


In the spirit of not having nothing to do on vacation, I just did something relatively reckless.

I've used the fact that my employer kicks everyone out for the last two full weeks in July, and booked me some easyjet. On Tuesday the 17th, I will be flying from Tallinn to London. On Sunday the 29th, I will be flying back to Tallinn... from Berlin.

I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do in the meanwhile, except for the fact that I have friends in various places in Europe (actually several distinct sets in London alone), and this sort of aimless wandering is a really cool and European thing to do, and for once in my life I have the disposable income for it. Might as well do this before I stop qualifying for youth discounts.

It's also something I would not normally do; the lack of organization and figuring-it-all-out-beforehand puts me way out of my comfort zone. I don't mind hostels, and I actually enjoy staying over at friends' places a lot more than even posh hotels; and to a very large degree, I am inspired by Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There - a book about arriving in Europe and going with the flow. But I'm still a bit of a control freak when it comes to itineraries. I am doing this on purpose, to hopefully change something about myself in the same way that people throw puppies into the water to teach them to swim.

So, if you're somewhere in Western Europe, and either know me or would like to meet me, leave a comment or send an email, and I'll see if I can stop by. :)

P.S. And hell, booking this early means that if I completely chicken out, I can just eat the cost. That is the magic of easyjet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Estonica: Negative

Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen. We have arrived. With but a few short weeks left till the election, the Centrist Party has launched a negative campaign against the Reform Party.

As I've mentioned, Reform is the MBA party. They are behind the income tax reduction - down a percent every year until it's 20% - and one of their more tangible slogans so far has been that of Tax Free Friday. They propose to reduce tax to 18%, illustrating it with a somewhat silly TV ad about the manor lord coming to collect from peasants every day, except Friday when they all dance around and celebrate together. It's a very auto-ironical ad, which is why I was surprised to see a Keskerakond ad today, which showed people being denied various basic services - police, healthcare etc. - on Fridays. The packshot said that Reform's plan would reduce the budget, and reduce your salary. Cue the Keskerakond green, with the slogan of "Richer Country, Better Salary".

Now, the obvious issue is that Reform obviously knows about the economy and how to manage it; and even with ever-decreasing income tax, the national budget has swelled by some 130 million Euro per year in proficit. (By law, the Estonian budget has to be balanced. Any more money than they expected gets allocated as an auxiliary budget.) There may be a difference between 18% and 20%, but it was 23% last year and 26% a few years ago; and we've somehow managed to muddle through on even such a pittance. Whereas the Centrists advocate a progressive income tax system, which would raise taxes for upper-middle class and above, and... lower taxes for anyone else.

Now, if we can get away with lowering taxes for everyone - and there's every reason to believe we can - why should we increase taxes for people who work hard and do well for themselves? Estonia is way too young to have entrenched oligarchy. The part-owner of my IPO-ed company, an unassuming programmer person who happened to be in the right place at the right time, is worth billions at 29. (To be fair, he is apparently a really good programmer.)

But an even more interesting observation is the utter moral bankruptcy of Team Savisaar, which have been ravaged by a defeat in the presidential elections, failed to make enough of a mark in the Pronksmess, and are facing yet another lesser-evil coalition of Reform, IRL and Greens come March. I have to concede that Edgar's boys must have enormous balls to come out with this ad, but is this really what the biggest single player in Estonian politics has been reduced to?

Watch this space.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Originally uploaded by Flasher T.
Went out to see my future home today. The factory actually builds each apartment as a set of modules (or a single module, in my case) and assembles them on location. I'm not allowed on site until all the work has been complete, but the idea is that inside, my little half-bedroom apartment is already painted, with the kitchenette assembled. They'll be putting on the outer panelling and hooking up the utlities, installing home appliances etc. until June.

I'm actually very happy that they are doing the full-surface siding - it's the fourth house of this development (in an eventual set of Seven Dwarves), and the first three just have white plastic on the first two floors. This should look much cooler when it's done.

Kodumaja, the company that makes these, is a Tartu operation, although most of their business is in Scandinavia. So far my experience with them has been quite positive.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ring The Alarm!

Well, here's a good man
And a pretty young girl
Trying to play together somehow...

The Sad Bastard Christmas tree is now dead. It's a Saturday in February, and I am swearing to myself that I will never - ever - take vacation time around the winter holidays ever again.

A year ago (or close enough, anyway) I was on a ferry, with a girl who I met online - in fact she'd read AnTyx, and was quite impressed. We started talking online, and eventually she asked me to go to Stockholm with her on a day cruise. First time we met in real life, and we were stuck together for two days and two nights. She'd also asked me to take her to the theater, to a play I'd seen and highly recommended. This girl had the sort of life that had no room for theater, or for pleasure travelling - even though she'd been to some very awesome places.

On the first night, we never went to sleep. We just lied there, in our beds, in a pitch-black cabin, talking. She told me about her life, I told her about mine; about my crap experiences, my heartbreak, the girl who thought I'd kill myself over her. She got the not at all unfounded thought that I did not get into a relationship lightly.

We had an awesome day in Stockholm; we had fun together. Back on the ship, I was both exhilarated and exhausted. The excitement of being in a city that I love, with this awesome girl, and the tiredness from walking around all afternoon, put me in an altered state of mind, where I could pretend I was a purer version of myself - with none of the stupid, annoying psycho shit that I cannot escape when I'm in my normal routine. I don't think it would be fair to say I worked up the nerve - it was a form of dutch courage, really - but I did ask if she'd mind if I kissed her.

It could've gone over better; then again, it could've gone over a lot worse.

What she said, was that I should not fall in love with her. That she had a massively busy life, and it was a very important year for her, she had the project of her life coming up in the summer, and she really could not afford to get involved. The most important point she made was that I really did not want it; that it would mess me up.

That night, in the pitch-black cabin - I won't be specific, but I can say that it was very probably the most emotionally extatic night of my life. Morning after, we parted with a hug at the bus station, she going off home down one major highway, and me down another. That night, on IM, she talking about what she thought all day; asking herself why she didn't kiss me.

Fast forward a few weeks, theater, a play she really liked.

Fast forward to the summer, the rocky seaside at a place that a lot of born&bred Tallinners don't know exists; when we fell off a slippery rock, drenching our shoes, and her phone in the process. (It never really recovered.) Sitting on a boulder with her arms folded on my shoulder, the sun shining on her face - that's my mental snapshot of her, at that moment.

Fast forward, when I came back from Israel and she came back from her great project; literally the day of my return (the flight came in at 2am) we drove down to Haapsalu to see Lordi at the ruins of the old bishop's castle. Unbelievably, the show was sold out; so we drove through the night, to Tartu.

The ferry, the boulder, and that was strike three. But things went downhill from there, and by the time the fall came, I felt alone again. She took more and more time replying to my SMSes, and was almost never online. And then I did something stupid.

I took two weeks' vacation over the year-end holidays. Last week of December and first week of January. And if I've said before that I would never be so miserable as to kill myself, then during those two weeks I at least began to see why some people did it. If you've ever remarked upon the destructive power of thinking about your life at night, in your bed, before you fall asleep, you'll know how much you can fuck yourself up when you're left alone with your own consciousness.

Now imagine two weeks of that.

I know it's foolish to somehow rate the success of my year on where I am come New Year's Eve, but somehow I can't help it. That's why early on, I asked her if she wanted to make an agreement - that barring any major events, we'd spend the next December 31st together; and she seemed to get it. Unfortunately, she ended up with some coworkers at the lakeshore instead. And as the last day of the year started, I was a bigger mess than I had been since high school. It got so bad that I could do nothing, except stand in the bathroom, propped up against the sink, look in the mirror and cry for myself.

In the end I didn't have to spend NYE alone. I went to a pretty cool party, held by the German acquaintance of the girlfriend of one of the Gay Vikings. But even before that, I spent a couple hours at a friend's house - a girl I knew from university, who I've spoken very little to before that. When I had no plans for the night, nowhere to go and nothing to do, she invited me over; she was a friend to me when I needed one more than any other time in recent memory. For that, I will always be grateful to her.

I survived the remainder of that week, spending my time at the movie theater watching crap like Eragon. I went back to work. I bought a car. I drank a lot of alcohol with friends in Tartu and in Tallinn, and I decided that I could not go through with such a torturous vacation again, so I allocated my spare eight days and a massive amount of money on a trip to Iceland (in early April; watch this space). And then I had a moment of clarity.

The girl kept telling me, throughout, that I should not fall in love with her, that she couldn't allow herself to fall in love with anyone, and that she definitely did not love me. But I never, ever said the word. Not in those good, early days, and not afterwards. Her presense, her closeness was euphoric; and not having that was horrible. I'd always been good at being alone - yes, I was easily annoyed by people bailing on me, and yes, on a conceptual level I felt like I needed a girl to share my life with. But I was comfortable with spending a lot of time by myself. Being with her changed that: I enjoyed it too much.

After the suicide girl, I was properly heartbroken. After this girl, I am suffering from a black, soul-devouring loneliness.

There are ways of driving it back, and I spend more time socializing now than I have ever done previously. I've not really talked much to the suicide girl - didn't feel like I had anything to say to her. I won't do the same with the loneliness girl, because if there's one thing this New Year's Eve told me, it's that a friend is far too precious a thing to discard. I won't spend a lot of time speculating on her motives. If I want to make myself feel better, I'll say that she's confused and making the horrible mistake of expecting a Prince Charming, denying the possibility of enjoying herself in the meantime. If I'm feeling cynical, I will say that it's the hypocrisy of all womankind, who may talk of personality being more important than looks; but I'm not the Brad Pitt type, so her fascination with my writing, my intelligence and my self-reliance fizzled out.

Lordi is playing in Tallinn on February 24th. I'm going alone.

So don't come here and tell me things that you don't understand
When it's all about the honesty and time for you to learn
Come back, you're always a friend - is that the message I'd like to send?

I want you to feel no more loneliness...
So ring the alarm!
You opened my mind, now I talk to the sign
You cleared up the sights, now I'm up for the night.

P.S. And a Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.


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