Thursday, January 31, 2008

Movie Challenge

A game we're doing at the office right now.

Name a movie that does not involve death, sex, or love. Cannot be a documentary, cannot be a cartoon/children's film.

Deaths not on screen but central to the plot disqualify the film, e.g. you cannot use the Blair Witch Project even though nobody actually dies in it.

It's also bad form to use films which are outside our cultural space (e.g. Asian films intended for the domestic market). The idea of the game is to see if it is possible to make a movie for ourselves as an audience that does not involve sex, love or death.

I came up with a couple eventually, but it wasn't easy. One was a fairly well-known and mainstream film, but from a few decades back; the other was more recent, but obscure.

Any takers?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Only You Can Be Free

A man's life got took away in the city today, they say
But never tell how many's been born
Inform us of a top notch surgeon's mistake
But not the many lives he's saved before
Show us starving kids through expensive lenses
On a far and distant shore
Of which, when sold, could feed a good few
Hey mister rich - Why don't you help the poor

Bad news, sad news, never no good news
S'all they print and beam
Make a child believe that there ain't no love
Well hey, love lives on my street.

A man giddily calls up his friends and gives them a link to a TV clip where one host admonishes the others for spending 15 minutes talking about the death of Heath Ledger, but not about the 28 soldiers that had died in Iraq that month. Nobody knows the names of those soldiers, the indignant presenter says.

The man sending the link to his friends giggles: way to go! Stick it to the media! The question I ask is, does he know the names of those soldiers? Did he go and look them up after watching the clip?

The media is the scapegoat of the day. The immoral, ratings-hungry media, they say, is dumbing down the nation and destroying society. If only the media had a little more integrity, a little more desire to really change the world for the better... If only we could have a CNN full of Jon Stewarts, and a Fox News full of Keith Olbermanns. Americans are having a hard time believing why, if their country is so fucked up and it's so self-evident, nobody is doing anything to change it. The evil Republicans are in power, and the inept Democrats have the Congress, the Senate, and probably the next presidency one way or the other; and yet nobody actually seems to believe anything will change for the better. Not just an American thing, of course, but America does enough cultural projection that it's the most convenient example. You'll all understand what I'm talking about.

There's a quote that's been thrown around a lot after 9/11, roughly this: People who would sacrifice their essential liberty for a little temporary security deserve neither liberty, nor security. It is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who, although he was never actually the President of the USA, is these days remembered mostly as a statesman and author of some of the principles of modern democracy. And herein lies a big problem: the assumption that both liberty and security are the domain of statesmanship.

The security of its people is the responsibility of a state.

Their freedom is not.

One of the better ways to reach a useful truth is to ignore the perversions that have tainted a presumably good idea over decades and centuries of implementation, and look at what the point was in the first place. A state is an infrastructure, fundamentally not alike the sewer system or the electrical grid; established by consensus with a particular purpose. The purpose of a state is the centralized management of interests which are common to nearly all of the population, but cannot be efficiently managed on an individual basis. Among these interests is security. One of the main purposes of a state is to ensure the security of its members, both from external threats, and from ones that exist inside the community (note how the state and the community are different things).

This is where the concepts of security and freedom begin to be interlinked, and what's worse, juxtaposed. It is a perverted understanding of freedom, bred by childish impatience and a sense of entitlement, that considers the restrictions of a state's security infrastructure to be a violation of freedom.

(There is this romantic myth of the outlaw as a free man; a man that is not bound by the shackles of society. The wimpy version of this is the non-conformist, from hippies to goths. The truth is, you can only be free from society if you go live on a deserted island. Anyone making an effort to publicly flaunt the rules of society places himself under far greater restriction; and the biggest degree of exercisable freedom is available to the person that embraces the state, and understands its system of restrictions.

Of course by embracing the state's restrictions, you gain the opportunity to avoid them far more than any outlaw. I never drink and drive, in fact I'm over-cautious in this regard; I always wear my seatbelt and have my insurance in order. I even have the right winter tires. Because of all this, I can break the speed limit, knowing that I probably won't be stopped - and if I will, I'll only get a relatively minor fine. For the self-evidently loyal citizen of the state, there is a far higher tolerance of formal infractions. This understanding of the relative importance of laws and the skill of selectively ignoring them is what I have referred to here in the past as not being an asshole

The outlaw might think that just because he has a gun and I don't, he is stronger than me. The truth is, he is only as strong as his one gun; I am as strong as my state's entire police force and army.)

The state's purpose is to provide for the security of its members. The state has no tools to provide for their freedom, because it was never designed to do that; because it is presumed, by the designers of the modern, democratic, free state, that people are free by default. People's freedom can be restricted by sheer force, as in a dictatorship, but any dictator relies on the loyalty of the executioners of his power; and so any dictatorship is organic, and exists exactly up to the point that the people are willing to tolerate it. (Revolutions are an integral part of the workings of human society. Now the idea has been introduced and proven that a revolution does not necessarily need to limit itself to replacing a bad dictator with a slightly better one. It is indeed possible for a people to govern itself, by consensus and majority decision.)

Because people are inherently free, they will not tolerate a dictatorship or an injustice beyond a certain level. This mechanism is assumed to work without fail; and so, the state does not have to concern itself with the provision of freedom. The state, being an organism comprising living parts, is subject to analysis; its actions are sometimes difficult to predict, but they are not beyond the boundaries of causality. The organism is indeed flawed, but it is fit for purpose (the purpose being provision of security); any time that the exercise of purpose creates an undue restriction of freedom, it is up to its constituent parts to come in and repair the damage.

So here, finally, is the point: your freedom can only ever be in your own hands. You, the common person, are individually responsible for maintaining the workings of the state. You will never find yourself in a situation or a state completely devoid of wrongs; it is simply a matter of how many and which wrongs you can live with. When you do not act explicitly to right a wrong, it means the wrong is not wrong enough.

So if you don't know the names of the soldiers that died in Iraq this January, then shut the fuck up.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tartu blog scene, redux

The scene is growing. Yesterday me and Giustino went over to check out the Hostel Dirty Sex, run by Joel Dullroy (nee Alas), of the No Estonian Unturned blog. It's a lovely place, with a very nice chillout room equipped with the second most comfortable couch in the world (after my own bright red leather one). Definitely a great place to hang out, smoke a waterpipe with some friends, and explain to a jetlagged Nsync refugee exactly what Wired Magazine did to piss me off.

Meanwhile, it seems that Trek of The Eesti Connection is considering moving out of Tallinn. Go over there and convince him to choose Tartu over Pärnu, and save a man and his family from annual flooding.

As master Dullroy intends to depart in the mid-term future, blogging Estonia will not be left aussie-less: apparently Loius (Zezeran) is moving to Tallinn.

Did I forget anyone?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


On Wed, 23 Jan 2008 01:00:26 +0200, Pamela Statz wrote:
> I sincerely apologize for the traffic you received over the weekend. The
> writer, David Kushner, is not to blame - I am. It was wrong for me to
> have
> embedded an iframe to a page on your site without getting permission. All
> links to have been removed from the story and sidebar.
> Pam Statz

Apologies accepted. :) I've restored the McKinstry archive.


6,258 hits on the blog - in the two hours that the redirect was in place!

And my website traffic over the entire debacle:

Oh well, at least I got on the front page of Reddit!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The inimitable master Janus comes through in a pinch for more traffic still.

I don't have a Google AdSense account on hand, otherwise I'd put the ads on there, to be quite honest.

Meanwhile, the best I can do to monetize is to tell you that I do technical writing/user documentation as a freelancer, and if you need some nice manuals or help files done, email's in the sidebar.

Wonder how long till Wired strips the article...

EDIT: The iFrame is gone. Hopefully my traffic will get back to normal now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bear with me.

I haven't written anything in a few weeks now (been busy with a side-project - I'll plug it here once done, and you'll be able to judge me on my technical writing skills). I have a good idea for an article, but I promised Baltlantis first crack at it. My guilt over procrastination is alleviated somewhat by the fact that they aren't actually paying me anything.

Anyway, an article in Wired Magazine talks about an event I was marginally involved in; records of that event are hosted on AnTyx. I am extremely impressed with my web host for handling the rush of traffic you see in the graph above; still, it's not completely impossible that I will actually run out of bandwidth this month. I am supposed to have an amount of bandwidth far in excess of my needs, and the pages in question are almost completely plaintext, but who knows.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Obligatory US Elections Post, Vol. I

No further comment. :)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

You go, Rein!

Remember the blue laws? The ban on sales of alcohol in Tallinn after 8pm?

The entire idea is now being challenged by the Justice Minister, as unconstitutional. Freedom of enterprise is protected. Alcohol is not a banned substance, so the right of local councils to restrict trade in alcohol is iffy.

The JM has made a statement to this effect to the Minister for Economic Affairs, who is none other than former PM and Res Publica leader Juhan Parts. The MEA tried to introduce a bill that would ban alcohol sales between 11pm and 8am across the country; the Justice Ministry refused to sign off on it.

Now, I have no great love for Rein Land, I think he's a bit of a blowhard. (Then again, I'm not that big a fan of Parts either.) But in this case I admire what he is doing, even if he might have an ulterior political agenda to show the IRL camp its place.

By far the biggest problem in Estonian politics today is loss of vision, drive and confidence. The fifteen-year miracle of this country was based on a shared understanding that there was a best way to do things, and this way was to give people as much freedom as reasonably possible. It was this implicit trust in competence and common sense that allowed us to pull off something which most people said could not be done - and most people in other communities still say is impossible.

Estonian politics has consolidated into a few large parties, who are trying hard to come up with an actual platform. With Rahvaliit effectively discontinued, and Keskerakond unlikely to survive the next round of elections (and flailing about in embarassing ways as a result), the two big coalition parties are trying to resort to rhetoric.

For IRL, this means suddenly remembering that they are the conservative, right-wing party. While the Isamaa bit has primarily been about patriotism, the Res Publica bit seems to have decided that now they are going to be the defenders of family values, temperance, and unless we're all very careful, God.

This is deplorable. The unique working amalgam of positions that makes Estonia what it is requires us to be conservative in economic matters, but liberal in social ones. If Res Publica are now going to go start taking pages out of the US Republican book (and all the wannabe Repubs in Canada, Australia, etc.), then Parts needs to be taken out back and given what Mr. Bridger called "a right talking to".

If Reform starts to take its formal rhetoric seriously again, that's fine; they are officially the bunch that keeps the economy running and doesn't particularly bother with third-rail type issues. I don't really believe that's going to happen, but irrespective of all that...

For Rein Lang to come out and tell Parts and the prudes to stop it, because such a restriction of free enterprise is not the Estonian way - to bring back that level of discourse - is extremely admirable, and I wish him luck in his endeavours.

(Holiday positivity bonus: more babies were born in Tartu last year than people died.)


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