Friday, June 29, 2007

Universe Abridged, Redux

A note, something from a forum discussion:

"If somebody has initial precepts that says God doesn't exist, there's no way to 'prove' to that person that God does exist."

Incorrect, because while atheism may display the zeal of a religion, it is based on reason and a set of observable, objective principles that do not contain a presumption on God. If you show, in the framework of science, a divine action - something that violates natural law - and present convincing proof that this is the action of a sentient being whose capability transcends logic, then a scientist and an atheist will acknowledge the existence of God.

If you remember the recent discussion on the feasibility of superpowers, how I said flying like Superman or Nathan Petrelli is impossible because it violates conservation of energy - it is entirely possible to use logic to assess an unknown phenomenon. Even if the phenomenon's actual mechanism is not understood, it is possible to dismiss a hypothetical as possible or impossible.

Now, the reason why the framework of science is superior to the framework of faith is because the uncertainty of faith makes it self-defeating. If you strip away enough layers of abstraction, it comes down to practical use: if an act of God cannot be triggered reliably, if it cannot be used to achieve a particular effect, then the fact that occasionally its presumptions appear to be borne out by observation is irrelevant.

When you show me a toaster that works by the power of Allah, then we'll talk.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Savisaar Declares Blue Law, Loses Voters, Mind

In a bid to distract people from his reaction to the April riots and his Putin Party connections, Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar has declared a permanent ban on off-license alcohol sales after 8 pm.

Yeah, THAT's gonna make him really popular.

(His nemesis, the PM Andrus Ansip is on the other hand famous in some circles for issuing an executive exception for a little park ground in downtown Tartu. There's a general law against public alcohol consumption in Estonia, but back when Ansip was the mayor of Tartu, he made sure the law didn't apply to Pirogov Hill.)

Meanwhile, on the local Russian side Savisaar's been catching flak for advertising his autobiography via MSN Messenger banners, with taglines like "How do we fight Russia?". It really appears as though Edgar is off his rollers.

Bonus: photo op of Edgar Savisaar with newborn triplets.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The AnTyx Fix: Schools

Let's be constructive, shall we? In the very admirable and very Estonian spirit of not listening to people saying it can't be done, here's one ostensibly excellent solution to a very difficult problem.

The disenfranchisement of Estonia's Russian-speakers in the new generation is usually attributed to two things: hostile foreign media, and russian schools as an impediment to integration. The former comes down to the fact that Russians en masse will not speak Estonian and do not speak English, in fact they're having a hard enough time learning their own language; the upshot being that the underclass lemmings stay in front of the television showing channels piped over from Russia, and forego any sort of critical analysis of the propaganda therein.*

The latter compounds this problem by making sure that young Russian-speakers have very little opportunity to escape the vicious circle. Friendships and afterschool activities are maintained within this virtual ghetto, under the watchful eyes of a faculty mostly carried over from the Soviet days. Like the rest of the Russian-speaking population, the teachers are likely to be immigrants, but their training includes both indoctrination and the imperative to indoctrinate the kids.

Russian-language schools are actually an example of the astounding tolerance towards the community by Estonians; in very few European countries will you find massive, municipally funded education networks in languages other than the state tongue. The fact that russian schools exist is, however, mostly a consequence of a lack of ideas - Estonians aren't particularly happy about them, and Estlanders increasingly prefer to put their kids in estonian schools. The russian education is being phased out slowly, as the demographic balance shifts and the Russian-speaking population shrinks faster than the national average; however, every single school closed provokes a wave of indignation and accusations of malice.

The reason the educational system was not transferred entirely into Estonian right after independence is one of logistics. At the time, it would've been politically possible, I think. But there simply weren't enough teachers to go around, and after a while the integration policy - a mix of assimilation tactics and "ignore the ruskies, maybe they'll go away" - made the question one to dodge.

Whenever it was brought up - both at the time I was in school myself** and later - it was always the same thing: start from the top, switch the higher years to Estonian and work your way down. I'm not entirely sure what the logic behind this is. My best guess is that because the last three years are not mandatory - children can leave school after Year 9, even though they are guaranteed an education for free up to Year 12 - the assumption was that any kids who make it into the final stage will be both reasonably bright and reasonably motivated. So the cut-off point was set to Year 9; above that, some of the classes are now taught in Estonian - particularly things like Estonian literature and history - and more are to come. Even that project is stalling because of a lack of teachers able to speak the language properly.
The vision of a Russian teacher reading the material to Russian students in Estonian is, admittedly, extremely funny.

However, the approach itself is fundamentally wrong. Kids who don't speak Estonian as a first language will resent it, of course - it's more difficult for them; the result will be that on the one hand, the students will resort even more to rote memorization instead of actually comprehending the material, and on the other, their attitude towards the impossibly complicated tongue will not improve. A bit of extended vocabulary is hardly the same thing as linguistic proficiency.

The trick is to start at the other end: phase out Russian-speaking first years. As anyone who's either taught or learned a language will attest, it is incomparably easier to pick up the skill at an early age. Seven-year-olds who are suddenly forced to spend their day talking in Estonian will have no problems growing bilingual (and there's no reason why the scheme can't be extended to kindergartens; most of my Estonian now is a pale remnant of the proficiency I had when I went to kindergarten with two dozen Estonian kids). Furthermore, it is far easier on the teachers. I am not going to claim that elementary school teachers' jobs are simpler - but the material itself is, especially in the context of a new language.

Set a cut-off date: from the year 2008, no more russian first grades. The existing ones will be allowed to run out - their teachers can then either retrain or retire (which most of them should be about ready to do, after fighting uphill for the best part of two decades), and within twelve years the problem will have been solved.

Education specialists in the audience - you know who you are - is there any objective, pedagogical reason why this wouldn't work? I can't think of any.

*This is not to say that Estonian media don't engage in blatant and grossly inappropriate propaganda; however Estonians by their nature are too sceptical to buy into the crap wholesale.

**Yes, I went to a Russian-speaking school. Supposedly a fairly good one, too. Though its principal has been in the news last year for being unable to speak any Estonian whatsoever, despite it being a job prerequisite and him being able to produce the necessary certificates.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Art & Craft

Two new sci-fi movies came out in the Tartu cinema last week. One was the new Fantastic Four, probably the weakest comic book adaptation I've seen so far. I was not impressed by the first movie, but I thought the second one would be entertainingly bad - but it wasn't. It was offensively bad.

It is absolutely possible to make a bad movie in a very good way. I really liked the third Fast & Furious flick, because they went back to what made the first one so popular - on the one hand, delivering the silly one-liners with a straight face, and on the other, not taking themselves too seriously. Fantastic Four absolutely does take itself seriously; it carries the comic tradition of claiming to be high literature without any actual artistic merit, but a ton of cliches (including the toothache inducing "with power comes responsibility"). The movie isn't even good for eye candy, as the supposed sex-bomb Jessica Alba could not act to save her life - though nobody seems to have had the courage to tell her. For Miss Alba, a dramatic scene consists of tilting her head sideways and staring upwards, which only makes her look like a retarded German Shepherd.

The other film was Next. Now, let me start off by recommending this film: it's quite good and you should watch it. But personally, I was bothered a bit by the duality of the plot. It's based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and while I haven't read the story itself (or much of this author, in fact), I do recognize the theme and structure of 60s science fiction. I can tell, from the adapted movie, that the original story was not made as an action thriller; it was far more about the character's attitude towards his special ability and how it affected his life. The story itself is, curiously about power and responsibility - but because the implementation is so very un-jingoistic, it feels organic and doesn't bother me. The first half of the movie, aside from the random Dodge plug scene, was sufficiently true to the spirit of science fiction's golden age.

The second half of it is action, which doesn't fit in with the original feel of the story, but here's the thing - they did the action outstandingly well. With very little special effects and no gimmicky photography, they played upon the main character's special ability to create a sequence of dynamic and fresh action scenes. If any of this was in Dick's text, I'm certain it was either a plot device or a token effort to get the attention of the magazine-reading youth - but the way they did it on screen justified the extra attention in the adaptation.

The biggest problem with the movie is the cast. Nicholas Cage plays the main character, and again, he does it very well; however, he's too famous for the role. His distinctive looks and voice mean that he is perceived through his previous characters - a mix of the action hero from Gone in 60 Seconds and the whatever-it-takes operator from Lord of War. Cage by no means does a bad job, but I think the film would feel a lot less fragmented if the main role was given, say, to Jim Caviezel - or any typical Hollywood hunk waiting for a big break. The rest of the celebrity cast are also quite good, especially Julianne Moore, but Next is the sort of film that should have been done with unknowns - both to boost their careers by providing an early cult classic to put in their IMDB profile, and to not distract the viewer from the plot and the action.

It was only half an hour after I left the cinema that I realized they left a gigantic plot hole - similar to the one in Ronin, but there it actually served to contrast the rest of the film, the lack of resolution carrying its own message. In Next, the hole was far more blatant - but it still very nearly worked. The movie is that good.

I Has A Lolcats

A bit of sillyness from last weekend. Original pics (c) me and a couple other people, quotes by me.

Starring Bergut as the Kung Fu Master, and an as-yet-unnamed kitten as Kitteh.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Break It

Quote of the day - applicable to several things:

There are designated angels who just might save your soul...
They give me words to live by - and that's all that I know.

If it ain't real - fake it,
If it ain't yours - take it,
If it's all gone bad - forsake it,
If it ain't broke - break it!

Võrumaa Fair

I swear this is not intentional, but I have just come back from Vastseliina. Three cars' worth of yuppies descended upon the home town of one of them, to fry meat, drink booze, and go to the country fair.

Vastseliina is not just a waterfall, in fact it is a municipality seat, a village of about a thousand people in the southeastern corner of Estonia - quite close to the Russian border. When the fair comes, it is an excellent place to reassure oneself that the nation does not, in fact, consist of Tallinn and Tartu exclusively. Getting there involves stages, like diving: you do not go straight to Vastseliina, but stop off at Võru first. Võru itself is a town, the center of an area known for a distinctive dialect, and the proud host of a giant Maksimarket store - slightly weird as, IIRC, up until recently the entirety of Ida-Virumaa was devoid of large chain supermarkets.

The village itself is a curious mix of authentic and foreign. Typical Nordic single-family homes with cute gardens are interrupted by several cookie-cutter apartment buildings put up in the Soviet days. In the village's center, a big neo-classical building houses a boarding school; veteran fire trucks are parked next to their depot, and a few hundred yards away the police station is beautified by a Subaru WRX squad car. The fair and the strongman competition held as part of it attract visitors from across the borders - Latvians and Estonians communicate in Russian, predictably but still remarkably. Vastseliina is supported mostly by the timber industry, and it is a clean, well-maintained place, without the flashy opulence (and depressing tower block ghettos) of Tallinn or the overt haughtiness of Tartu. What it does, mostly, is exhude quiet confidence; this is a place inhabited by country people, who have good reason to believe they can handle whatever life throws at them.

In this country, in this time, that's a sentiment worth promoting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Welcome to Old Europe

LJ user lasterix mentions a Postimees report about proposed changes in the labour import laws. The EU is pushing new members to accept more foreigners, and by 2009 Estonia might adopt a simplified work visa scheme, as well as doubling the annual quota to 0.1% of the population, around 1300 people.

This is scaring a lot of people: after the April riots, the last thing locals want is a bunch of Africans and Muslims, or any other foreigners in significant numbers, in fact. While the law states that any guest worker must receive at least the industry standard wage, and the employer is significantly responsible for them, the fear is that with Estonian specialists increasingly moving to other EU countries for work, the immigrants will be poor, uneducated, cheap labour that will turn this country into another shell of a European paradise, infested and polluted by mullahs screaming at prayer time.

Curiously, the LJ user in question writes in Russian, and so do her commenters; the people most scared of a black ghetto in Kopli are the ones currently perceived as unwelcome foreigners. It's a well-known phenomenon that the second-to-last group of immigrants are usually the most adamant about keeping the borders closed, just funny to see it actually happen so close to home.

However, I think Estonia is in a better position to handle the influx of guest workers than most other EU countries, and the local Russians have had a hand in this.

The key issue, again, is idealism. Europe is too wrapped up in its own noblesse oblige to approach the problem of immigrants forcefully.

The problem is not that the immigrants are there. It's that both sides - the immigrants and the locals - have the wrong approach, a mentality that precludes successful coexistence. After all, migration has been an aspect of human society from the start; very few peoples can claim that they now live where they originally did (though Estonians at least have the distinction of descending directly from the first human tribes to settle the north Baltic). Immigration itself does not lead to conflict; what does is the lack of desire to understand and accept the values of the new country.

A British friend of mine has once stunned me with his pathological tolerance, saying he didn't mind that all the people with wildly differing lifestyles and values came to Britain, nor that they continued to practice them; he would just appreciate if those values were not forcefully applied to him. This approach is wrong because it puts the native population into the position of a powerless minority, happy for whatever small opportunity is given to them. The truth is that IT has given a new dimension to globalization; we are now in the initial stages of a post-global world, where instant communication and cheap transport can be used to decouple economics from geography and society. A business's new branch can be established anywhere on the globe, wherever the labour is available; globalization now creates not only sweatshops, but positions for highly qualified, well-paid specialists, who can have a comfortable enough existence in their own country. This will not completely eliminate migration, of course, but it does weaken the economic argument for migration. People who leave their countries because there is no way for them to make a living there, are very rarely qualified enough to practice their profession somewhere else.

Or at least they won't have the excuse. Most Third World countries now have a booming economy, as the West wages its wars with economic means rather than military (this is the point behind the quip about democracies not going to war with each other); the Western economy needs access to new markets, but these markets need to be rich enough to pay the West's prices. Since the West is in a post-industrial state, and richer than ever, it actively wants its customers to be increasingly wealthy, not just from selling off their countries' natural resources, but from having a healthy economy of their own. North Africa and South-East Asia are no longer disaster zones, and people who leave them to come to Europe do not have the justification of inevitability.

So any immigrants to Europe now come here because they want to partake of the riches and security of the world's single wealthiest entity. This is where the buck stops and the white man's burden morphs into righteous indignation; because if these folks want the benefits of life in Europe, they'd better fucking behave themselves. European countries have every right to demand, individually, that immigrants subscribe and follow the rules of the community they have proactively decided to join.

But they won't, at least most of them, because Europe is still suffering from the spectre of intolerance. Between the effect of the Holocaust and the increasing historical awareness of colonial abuse, Old Europe has not been willing to implement any sort of policy that could be seen as limiting the rights of the immigrants. Of course, the personal liberty that is the hallmark of Europe is only viable if the citizen chooses not to exercise it to its full extent. The civilized European community functions on consensus and compromise, with members who realize that limitations for the sake of society benefit themselves in the end. Immigrants with no tradition of living in a social democracy do not have this understanding. Both sides are at fault.

However, I think Estonia may be one of the very few European countries with the ability to resist this combination of offense and apathy - and to a large part this will be because of the Russians, because of the riots of April 26th. Because while Estonia does suffer one half of the problem - the lack of the immigrant community's desire to play by the rules, and their sense of entitlement unmarred by obligation - it has just come through a test case, and is certainly not short of political will to tackle the issue.

The Tallinn riots were tame by world standards in terms of actual violence - in fact I've been told by Canadians that over there hockey riots with no political undertones whatsoever regularly result in far more damage - but in terms of political fallout, this was quite close to the worst case scenario. The riots broke out over a historically sensitive subject, a third rail that most European politicians will not touch (people have pointed out that the EU outrage over Russia's behaviour formally applied to the breach of the Vienna convention only); the government, with a single leader assured of his personal mandate and popularity, antagonized a very significant portion of the population, which was backed by an agressive neighbouring country that was also an important trade partner.

And yet here we are, less than two months later, and the world has not ended. The Kremlin has more or less stopped making noises in our direction, and local Russians may still be pissed, but they've realized that there is nothing for them to gain. Overall, the Estonian government - and more importantly, any future government - has a precedent for defending its decisions against a violent minority. For what it's worth, the YouTube propaganda clips will convince any potential immigrant with an Internet connection that Estonia is a country where foreigners are tolerated only as long as they don't stir up any trouble. Those that do, end up in D-terminal.

Ironically, the recent EU member state that was woefully unprepared for riots, is now the one most capable of dealing with hostile immigrants. If we do have to open up our borders to refugees and guest workers, I guess it's not such a bad thing to have that sort of reputation.

When I first wrote about the riots, the best comment was "Welcome to Old Europe". Glad to be here, Jens-Olaf; we've brought our own riot squad.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Good Morning Sunshine

As I came out of my sleeping quarter this morning and gazed at the living room, adorned with remnants of a pitched battle between man and mosquito, the grand truth of the previous evening dawned on me:

Half a dozen 20-something IT yuppies really will drink anything. Including Giustino's vile blackcurrant vodka that got separated into blackcurrant and vodka fractions over 24 hours in the freezer.

Still, the rolling housewarming party seems to be going well. (I can only accomodate about 5-6 people at a time, so I'm doing this in stages.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Captor's Other Victim

Giustino's other good question is why Russia's attitude to Finland is so different from its attitude to Estonia.

An explanation can be made if we presume, as I've written before, that the Russian authorities don't have anything personal against Estonia, but rather just need a target for discontent among the population. Be it Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, or Burkina Faso.

It's true that the argument of Estonia's successful democracy being a threatening contrast to Russia's totalitarianism doesn't hold water: Russia is far from caring what anyone else thinks of it. Russians will enjoy it if their country is feared, but don't especially need for their country to be liked.

Now, let's remember that when Georgia was under fire, it was far, far worse than the height of anti-Estonian sentiment. Deportation of Georgian citizens, registration of people with Georgian last names, a threat of interrment... All Georgia did was elect a new president who was publically Western-minded* and unfriendly to Moscow. The same thing happened in Ukraine. I'm not really sure what caused the ban on Moldovan wines - I'm just going to take my own advice there and presume it was the Russian Surgeon General's stupidity rather than anyone's malice.

But Estonia didn't go through such a major shift - it was clearly Westbound from the beginning. While it was never particularly friendly with Russia, most of the time it wasn't an important enemy. So the ire of Russians was not caused by a sense of betrayal (not that this isn't there, in a perverse form, but that's a topic for another article).

So what is the difference between Estonia and Finland?

The answer is: exit points. On an emotional level, Estonia is felt to have been lost recently, in '91; most of the population of Russia today remembers a time when Estonia was their own territory. On the other hand, very few people alive now remember Finland as a Russian province; while Russians may know factually that Finland was a province of the Empire, it has been a Western country for the entirety of their conscious existence.

And here's the interesting thing. Both Finland and Estonia gained their independence and then made good, grew their economy and living standards, have become distinctly better than Russia on an everyday, obvious level. The difference is that Finland escaped from the Tzar, whereas Estonia escaped from the Secretary General.

Thanks to Putin's bridge to Soviet propaganda, which was entrenched in the consciousness of regular Ivans, a massive chunk of the Russian population now enjoys a distinctly Soviet identity; they take the Soviet Union as their own. Meanwhile that same propaganda demonized Tzarist Russia, and nostalgia for the time of French-influenced nobility and triumphs against Napoleon is far, far weaker - especially among the working class, which can't really identify with the Hussars or Petersburg courtiers.

By escaping from the rule of a foreign power - foreign both geographically and ideologically - and then becoming (almost literally) a runaway success, the former province juxtaposes itself to the former metropoly.

Finland's success is an affront to a suppressed aspect of Russian identity. Estonia's success is an affrong to the dominant aspect.


* In response to criticism in the last post's comments - here I'm not referring to "the West" as a single political entity, but as a single concept of values, based on free market economy, representative government and the primacy of the citizen's interests over those of the state. Therefore this refers mostly to continental Europe, although in a broader sense involves Japan and Australia, who are only the West to Californians and Argentinians respectively.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Giustino is wondering why Russia is in the G8 while Brazil isn't. To answer both him and my president, the reason why Russia is tolerated in the G8, and Brazil hasn't been invited, is because G8 membership is important to Russia, but irrelevant to pretty much everyone else.

G8 membership was Yeltzin's great public achievement. In the early 90s, G7 countries were the ones most intimately involved with introducing free market values this side of the Iron Curtain. Therefore G7 meetings were always on the news, the decisions made there always seemed pertinent; it was easy to believe that G7 was the club that mattered, the table from which the world was run. Joining the club was a boon for Russia's collective self-esteem, as it was now accepted as an equal to the US, UK, France, Germany... In Yeltzin's time, Russia did have industry - it was outdated, inefficient and crumbling, but it was there. And for all the corruption, violence and nepotism of the time, Yeltzin's Russia was - when it counted - democratic. In Yeltzin's Russia, professional clowns like Zhirinovski or the communist Shandybin could rise to political prominence; a stand-up comedian with a rustic, country farmer public image rode his fame to a governorship; and like so many great authoritarian leaders, Putin himself was elected legitimately*. To the G7, Yeltzin's Russia was a misguided, but promising partner, a project that they felt confident they could manage**. Letting Russia into an organization of large industrial democracies was not a big deal for the others, but it was a massive plus for Yeltzin and his nation.

Today, we live in a different time. The West's biggest issue is no longer incorporating Europe's lost half into an industrial democratic community. That job is by and large done. Most of Eastern Europe is either in the EU or well on its way there. The Balkans appear to have been sorted. Ukraine may still see scuffles between the revolutionary president and other major figures, but overall it has been realigned westwards. Belarus is irrelevant. Transdniester will eventually be sorted out by Moldova, which is to Romania as Estonia is to Finland. Chances are that if Georgia gets an EU invite on the condition that it drops Abhasia, that issue can be solved.

For the Golden Billion, both the major issues and the major weapons are now economic. Noblesse oblige has been re-targeted to emerging markets. Wars have outlived their usefulness; I won't claim that we've seen the last truly massive war, but at this point in time, there is no viable hostile force to challenge the West's domination. The issue is the availability of energy and access to markets.

And Russia aside, the Grand Number does not have a cohesive position in this effort. The EU's previous and early iterations were about establishing a common market; Europe as any sort of cohesive political force has only been around since the Iraq war, when the continent's big players either said no thanks, or made it very clear that they were only sending in a token mercenary force as a personal favor to Washington. If the G7 does not have a common approach to the Middle East, the organization itself does not hold any special significance. It's not really useless, as it's still a good excuse for world leaders to get together and talk about things, but the G8 is a far less important event than the World Economic Forum, let's say.

The reason why Brazil, or indeed China, have not been accepted into the G#, is because they haven't asked. They have nothing to gain from it except the ire of anti-globalist protesters. In terms of international politics, Brazil is naturally poised to assume the same sort of leading position for the non-Arabic Third World as Poland has for New Europe, and G8 membership would only hurt that, without providing any sort of real prestige.

The reason why Russia has not been kicked out of the G8, despite being increasingly totalitarian, is because nobody particularly gives a damn if it's there. Russia enjoys its G8 membership a lot more than the G7 minds it. Europe's attitude to Russian antics is the one Estonia should've taken up in a perfect world: that of confident bemusement. As I've written before, Russia needs Europe a lot more than Europe needs Russia; but that doesn't mean Europe is going to go around hitting the Kremlin in its collective face with a wet trout. While Estonia has the habit of calling Russia's bluff and allowing it to make a fool of itself, Europe simply ignores the pointless dick-waving and humors Putin in irrelevant cases.

Fair enough.


* Russia's problem isn't that Putin crushes all viable competitors, it's that there are no viable competitors to consider. The tragedy is that Putin is actually the archetypal Russian leader; history tells us that the country functions under totalitarian rule and falls apart under democratic idealists.

** Remember, Putin came out of nowhere. In hindsight we know that he was involved in St. Petersburg mayoral politics, but shortly after Yeltzin's resignation there was a memorable moment at an international conference where some Western journalist asked, "But who exactly is Mr. Putin?". So the G7 actually had every reason to expect Russia to continue on a democratic path.

Irony is delicious

A photo by Oleg Kabatov, published in the Russian edition of Esquire, of an OMON (SWAT equivalent) officer in full riot gear - including an SS logo painted on the helmet in white-out.

Preserved for posterity and easy reference whenever someone starts bitching about the swastika earring thing in Estonia way back.

It is incredible, really, how Russian propaganda is consistently undermined by Russians themselves.

Here's another one by Oleg Klimov.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tired of Apocalypse

It is strange to think that we've made it almost half way through 2007, and the decade is almost over. Most of what I think of as my adult life was contained in it, not to mention the true start of the 21st century.

(If we talk about historical periods, centuries don't begin and end when the calendar says so. The divider will be a major event. The 20th century began with the First World War, and the 21st - on 9/11.)

History is cyclical, and I've found that with a bit of mental gymnastics it is possible to trace the interchange of positive and negative outlooks. The 90s were a time of End of History, of shrugging off the Cold War burden - in this part of the world specifically, it was a turbulent time, but overall the progress was welcome.

Estonians are still fairly confident of their future, but elsewhere the perceived imminent energy shortage and the spectre of terrorism - much scarier than the actual feasible threat - have affected the human mentality. This can be observed particularly in popular culture.

It is both easy and customary to criticize Americans' general intelligence level, but in this decade we've seen some genuinely good TV shows. The consumer culture has had its effect, and nearly every bright idea has been run into the ground (because it's not possible to infuse twenty two episodes a year with the same level of novelty and creativity as a good pilot), but the trend is certainly positive. And these shows allow us to extract the fundamental concept of this decade, in the same way as the 60s were all about revolts and new world orders, or the 80s - about greed.

The basic notion of the noughties is apocalypse.

How many of the good shows are about dystopia, about a Mad Max future and the world as we know it being taken away? Lost, Heroes, Jericho, Battlestar Galactica... I won't be so paranoid as to suggest that it's some far-Right-Christian plot to introduce the general public to the idea of Rapture, but one could argue the opposite - that the entertainment industry is tapping into a notion that most of the viewership finds plausible. Science fiction, the branch of literature whose entire point is to advocate prosperity through progress, has been coming up with things like the Riddick series or Serenity - that's besides the painfully obvious Matrix and its less grand but more endearing half-brother Equilibrium. The same relationship can be seen in two other apocalyptic prophecies - V for Vendetta and Children of Men, and while on the topic of British dystopias you might remember 28 Days Later (haven't seen the sequel yet) and the rather justly forgotten Reign of Fire.

It is probably indicative of general mindset that the original Star Wars trilogy - a struggle against evil - was filmed from the late 70s to the early 80s, and then in our time came the pessimistic prequels. But I, for one, am sick and tired of all this apocalypse talk. We've got two and a half years to go, and I can hardly wait. Roll on the next decade - I'm done with this one.


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