Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shenandoah Mõmmi

Shenandoah Mõmmi
Originally uploaded by Flasher T
Taken on the Skyline Drive, in north Virginia. Didn't dare get out of the car.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Reverse Nimby

I was looking through a bit of junk mail the other day, and saw a piece of really good translation in the Maxima supermarket chain's circular. Accurate, idiomatic, native - something this type of publication never seems to boast. For a while, I thought I might actually be starting to get my faith in humanity back. Obviously that didn't last.

Someone commented on a recent post that I am at my blogging best when I'm angry. Well, buckle up, cause you're in for a treat.

I first heard about the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland from the Keith and the Girl podcast. I didn't pay too much attention to it, although I was a bit surprised at the fact that the French Foreign and Culture Ministers saw fit to publicly decry the US-requested arrest, and that representatives of the Swiss film community in effect said they were ashamed of the behaviour of their government. As the story made its way around the news sites and opinions started to come in, I became ever more astounded.

You can get the details elsewhere, but briefly, the facts of the case are these: in 1977, Roman Polansky, then in his mid-40s, was doing a photoshoot of a 13-year-old girl for a magazine. He gave her alcohol and drugs, and raped her. He was arrested, and pleaded guilty. After the conviction, but before the sentencing hearing, he left the US and went to France, which would not extradite him.

Now, a bunch of filmmakers have signed a petition against his extradition. And their argument is that he should not made to serve his sentence, because... he's such a great filmmaker.

Now, we already knew Woody Allen was a pervert. But other people are defending Polansky as well. Including people I know; people for whom I had a lot more respect before today.

It is a subset of a phenomenon I've seen before, the reverse of the Not In My Back Yard syndrome. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I was hanging out at the local Honda forum, and there was a thread about a particularly bad car crash. The party at fault had been pretty clear from the news reports, a forum member who had been driving extremely stupidly. The posters were all saying how much of an idiot he was... until one of them got offended, saying he was the driver's close friend. And to my utter dismay, the others apologized.

I've seen the same behaviour in other places, too - while growing up in Lasnamäe. No matter how evil someone had been, it was unacceptable to say anything to the effect of "he got what he deserved" or "I hope they put him in jail" in the presence of someone who'd been close friends with the bastard. You don't talk shit about my friend. The classic NIMBY is the desire for something particular to happen, but somewhere else, not in the vicinity of the subject himself, where it would have a chance of inconveniencing him. And the reverse NIMBY is the sort of mentality where justice and morals suddenly become relative, and mercy or consideration needs to be applied exceptionally, simply because the accused is someone you like.

Or someone whose movies you like.

Yes, Polansky does not appear to be an actual pedophile (there was no report of sexual abuse on his behalf before the incident or since). And yes, his wife was murdered by a serial killer while pregnant with their baby. And yes, the girl in question was someone who'd been in the adult world at the time, and was probably already sexually active, and her mother was a malevolent stage parent type who put her in harm's way. And yes, Polansky fled the country after he'd learned that he would probably be going to jail, instead of the psychiatric treatment and probation he expected to get. And yes, he'd been an Auschwitz prisoner. And yes, he made some great films.

But this was not statutory rape; this was not overreaction by the parents of an early-bloomer sixteen-year-old who was fooling around with her nineteen-year-old steady boyfriend. This was a 44-year-old man drugging a 13-year-old girl and violently raping her while she was begging him to stop. And if you can, in your heart, find any crumb of justification or excuse for Roman Polansky's actions, then you fail as a human being.

Roman Polansky must be extradited to the US, sentenced in court, and forced to serve a real jail sentence, and to suffer through whatever happens in jail to men who rape thirteen-year-olds. And if he dies in jail, I will not shed a tear. Because maybe all that will mean that some years from now, the threat and inevitability of punishment, even for someone with money, connections and public admiration, will serve to prevent another monstrous lapse of judgement, and another little girl's life will not be shattered.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Telegraph Folly

My sister (who lives in Brussels and does something with international labour law) asked me to comment on a link she was sent. I started writing a response, but it grew enough that I might as well post it here, for general consumption.

It's claptrap. The author mentions no economic theory to explain how the impending doom will actually come about. He begins with forced misdirection, using private debt figures in a context designed for public debt. He then mentions that the state "could" spend more, and that we have a remarkably low public debt figure. He assembles random scary soundbites, such as our economy falling twice as much as Iceland (Iceland's economy is fishing and geothermal-powered aluminium smelting, it has nothing to do with the financial crisis that killed the country). Essentially, it is a piece written to order. His editor asked for a thousand words on how the Estonian economy is fucked, and he assembled the best bits of trollbait and posturing that Google could provide.

As a rule of thumb, do not trust an Englishman with a double-barreled last name to be actually competent or knowledgeable about anything.

The rebuttal is the same it's been since 2007: the private debt is held by foreign banks, and is Sweden's headache, not Estonia's. Estonia has a reasonable personal bankruptcy law, and devaluation would simply result in massive foreclosures that would leave Swedish-owned banks with swathes of property they could never sell for anything approaching the value of the loans. Estonia's Euro accession is in the absolute, unequivocal interest of the parties holding the private debt, which is why the Swedish central bank has recently declared that they made billions of SEK available to the Estonian central bank, in order to maintain the EEK's stability.

The impressively tragic numbers describing the fall in real estate prices in Tallinn belie a virtual lack of transactions. As I've said a long time ago, the biggest realty discounts come from new-build projects, where developers are slashing initially astronomical margins on units that were built to the lowest cost. Lack of consumer confidence and prohibitive interest rates have destroyed demand, and the relatively small amount of desperate supply is available at fire-sale prices to those lucky few who can pay cash. There are damn lies, there are statistics, and there are percentages: you'll get a scary picture if you compare a buyer's market against the apex of an insane price boom.

In any case, it is almost unbearably ironic to be accused of high personal debt and unrealistic house prices by the British!

The motivations behind Estonia's behaviour in the current economic climate are quite difficult for outside observers to comprehend. Part of it is politics, yes: we are willing to sacrifice much in order to integrate ourselves with Europe's infrastructure to the extent that it will be cheaper to defend us than to throw us to the bear. But there is more to it. While the entire Western world is battling a recession with massive government spending, we are doing something that simply does not occur to Telegraph readers (or writers): living within our means.

It was Stockholm and Frankfurt's folly to pump cheap loans into Estonia, and we'd have been fools to ignore the opportunity - personally I am giddy with satisfaction at my mortgage payments, consisting of a contractually fixed tiny margin over a freshly bottomed-out EURIBOR. My apartment's worth less now than what I paid in the fall of 2006, but not less than I owe on it (because the local banks always demanded significant down payments, which the British, with their multi-generation home loans of 110% of the value of the purchased property, should really give a try). And if we really were that bothered by the size of the private foreign debt - which master Evans-Pritchard emphasizes is the second highest in Eastern Europe, though even in percentage terms it pales in comparison to that of the UK - then we would indeed devalue the kroon. Let SEB and Swedbank repossess all those Soviet tower blocks, while we once again become cheap labour, drawing off the last of Western Europe's skilled jobs; and five years from now, when the defaulted debts of a third of the country are wiped clean, we will simply buy all the property back from the banks at a fraction of the loan amounts. I wonder how surprised Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and other devaluation advocates would be if they saw the employment contracts of Estonia's competitive middle class, particularly the clause that guarantees a recalculation of salaries in Euros if the peg is lost!

Instead, we are being responsible, reliable allies of Western Europe, maintaining our obligations and dealing with the real world. Which is not something I would expect an Eton twit to understand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to your regularly scheduled programming

...yes, well. I've come to the realization that not many people particularly care about the details of the UStrip, and those that do will have already heard them over a drink. So I shall say no more of it, except to mention that NYC has joined Stockholm and Barcelona as a city where I would genuinely love to live - but with the caveat that I would need to already be rich. It is natural for me to be sarcastic about the hipster culture, but I must be honest: were I in a position of having more money than imagination, I too would choose the life of a Tribeca trustafarian.

Should you wish to peruse any further account of the author's travels this summer, the Flickr widget is to your right.

Meanwhile the best excuse I have for not blogging is that I have spent no small amount of time and effort cultivating a habit of saying nothing unless I have something interesting to say; and far more of both in learning to recognize whether what I have to say really is interesting. Without conclusive evidence, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I assure you my life in the past months has been interesting, just not in a way you would care about. The trials, doubts and difficult decisions have found their way into the firepit at Mingus's country estate, where skeletons belong. I return to you, the stunningly patient reader, with a renewed vigor in the general sort of existentialist whimsy that is the engine of AnTyx. Hope you've missed me; I have certainly missed you.

I've been pleasantly surprised to find some gems in movies I have seen recently. The one I would primarily direct your attention to is Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel, which is most completely described as Shaun of the Dead, but for time travel. While Chris O'Dowd may not quite have that same air of sardonic befuddlement, the film itself certainly captures the air of movies that a fair amount of my friends are great fans of. You'll enjoy it if you're a sci-fi fan, and you'll enjoy it if you're a Simon Pegg fan.

I liked Gamer, although I can understand if a lot of people won't. I accept its flaws as an uncomplicated action movie with a formulaic plot, and with low expectations, it does redeem itself in two ways. One, somewhat predictable: Michael C. Hall is a great villain. He's not exactly showing us a new facet of himself, but his portrayal of a psycho is delicious enough; unchained from Dexter's building desire to achieve, or at least convincingly mimic, some degree of humanity with all of its boring little melodramas, he provides the pure, inhumanly evil persona that has been disappointingly absent from the silver screen since the early Bond movies. The other breath of fresh air is the film's pacing. It is an odd irony, but this bit of mindless gore is the first film in recent memory that flatters the viewer by presuming intelligence. It knows that the audience is well familiar with the tropes, and does not spend time on redundant, superfluous plot or character development. Every time you go "I know what's going to happen next", the film responds with "alright, then let's skip it and go to the next part". The honesty is tremendously endearing.

I was in search of a Sunday night's light entertainment, and found it in Tartu's now-lesser movie theater, in the form of Easy Virtue. It's based on a play by Noёl Coward, and is outstandingly fun. The posters and trailers make it out to be a film where Jessica Biel pretends to be Scarlett Johansson, but in fact it is a wonderful theatrical comedy, full of fast pace and British humour; playing to type, but an excellent execution. Kristen Scott Thomas is extremely good, Colin Firth puts in a brief appearance, and Jessica Biel herself does far better than anyone would have expected. Her performance, while not groundbreaking, certainly does not let the film down. And I like the butler.

Taking Woodstock - I will simply say that Liev Schreiber in drag is awesome.


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