Friday, October 23, 2009

I Don't Think You Know What "Interesting" Means

Here's a news article linked from one of my forums. The news story itself is a couple of days old now. The gist of it is that a Frenchman paid some Kosovar gangsters to kidnap a German and drop him off near a French courthouse. The German had previously been convicted in absentia in France of the manslaughter of the Frenchman's daughter; the German authorities found the case to be without merit, and so refused to extradite him.

Just to get it out of the way, my personal opinion is that the Frenchman - who appears to be cooperating with the police in the identification of the kidnappers - should be tried, convicted for kidnap, and sentenced to lots of community service. He broke the law, but in the least evil way possible under the circumstances. (For comparison, consider Drasius Kedys, the Lithuanian who murdered two people suspected of molesting his daughter.) The German is now in French custody; the article says that a conviction in absentia means he will now go through another trial, where he will have the opportunity to defend himself.

What bothers me is the cocnluding line of Charles Bremner's article from the Times Correspondents section:
It's interesting that we have only had the French side of this story.
As I commented on the article itself - yes, because it would be ridiculous to expect a staff writer for a major newspaper to actually get the German side of the story!

Even though the article itself appears in the Blogs section, it still carries the Times header; as such, Charles Bremner does represent the institution and ought to be bound by the habits of good journalism. I usually defend the established media in the face of claims that it has outlived its usefulness in the age of Digg and Twitter, but lazy incompetence of the kind exhibited by master Bremner makes it difficult to do so. "It's interesting" can be expected from a blog (though even then it is vulnerable to ridicule), but in a major news source, it ought to be cause for immediate termination. The very least that the Times correspondent must do is contact the German prosecutor's office and ask for a statement, better yet - have a look at the reasoning in Germany's official refusal to extradite or even pursue the case. Even if that information is not public record, certainly the Frenchman and his attorney would have access to it. And if Bremner were to strike out, find nothing of significance, then the line should read "The German authorities declined to comment on the case".

Charles Bremner uses the word "interesting". I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Estonian Girl

Tragically true, though there are exceptions. Found via Colm of Corcaighist. Anyone know the author?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I don't care, just vote against the incumbent.

It's less than a week until the election. I've already voted online; ended up choosing Mihhail Lotman on the IRL list, for no better reason than the fact that my parents were students of his father, the famous semiotician. Lotman is a university person, and while certifiable intelligence in no way precludes one from making really bad decisions, it's as good a differentiator as I'm going to get in this municipal election. IRL's list also includes Ene Ergma, not that there is any chance she'll actually stick around to serve on the city council. The candidate list regulations for Estonian elections are disappointing.

I haven't had that much cause to be unhappy with the existing Tartu city government, but they've done nothing to impress me, either. Reform's problem these days is an utter lack of vision. They've always gotten by quite well on being the quietly competent party, but that will not be enough to overcome the bad will accumulated by the government in a crisis. IRL doesn't have anything particularly interesting to say either (they promise to fix the appalling public bus system in Tartu, but I don't think they can), but they're inoffensive to me, and just nose ahead on the respect gained from the candidates' willingness to hang out near Kaarsild at 8am on a weekday, handing out coffee.

The Social Democrats are desperate enough to resort to spamming, on the one hand, and extremely dubious political statements on the other. Having gotten kicked out of the coalition for not playing nice, they are still under the delusion that they matter, and have now suddenly remembered that they are supposed to be a left-wing party. So they came out in support of the latest Keskerakond bright idea: making mortgage loans non-actionable. The idea being that a loan is secured only by the real estate; if the owner is underwater, he can just walk away from it. (Nevermind that Estonia already has a personal bankruptcy law, which can be applied to people who are genuinely in trouble.) It's pandering to an irresponsible, infantile mass. I'd long since stopped expecting anything better of Savisaar, but SDE should be ashamed.

Of course, the election is mostly about Tallinn, and the vast majority of the campaigning is focused on it. Knowing he's lost the reasonable vote, and completely devoid of any actual ideas on how to improve things, Savisaar's defaulted back to "Ansip sucks dicks" and "vote for me, I'll give you potatoes". The opinion polls seem to suggest that there is a chance of a coalition keeping the centrists out of power in Tallinn this time around. That would be nice.

Who else is left? Rahvaliit? Very funny. The Greens? They're a bunch of utter morons, opposing anything they can if it brings them some semblance of street cred among the hippies.

Somebody in my blog feed suggested we reintroduce a property test for voting rights, and while that's undemocratic, I can't help but go "hmm". Freeloaders who refuse to take responsibility for their choices, and then expect the state to bail them out, are not the sort of people who should be allowed to have a say in the way a country is run. Most of the serious social stimulants in this country are already in the form of income tax breaks. If you've been actually receiving cash from the state for more than 2 years (to account for maternity and temporary unemployment insurance), you have a conflict of interest, and are not allowed to affect the political process. Ah, I can only dream...

Something called Uus Laine in Paldiski actually paid Tallinn's nightgame host to do a free-to-play session in the port city on election day, noon to 6pm. The only condition is that all cars need to be carrying flags with the party's logo. I don't think there was much interest.

Here's a parting thought. It might be a downer, but go and vote. If you have no good motivation to vote for any particular party (much less a candidate), then just vote against whoever was in power last time. As usual: if you don't vote, you don't get to bitch.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Tim Minchin - Storm

Outstanding. Simply outstanding.

The Slightly Used Book Shop

I've often said that there are only a few international consumerist icons that I really wish existed in Estonia, and that among them are Subway (the sandwich place), and Waterstone's bookstores. I have a vocational disorder where I cannot read a book in translation if I know the original language - I keep getting distracted by the artifacts, keep going "I see what you did there". The selection of English books in Tartu and Estonia in general, while significantly improved in recent times, is still inadequate for my requirements. Half of my baggage coming back from the States was dead tree.

Yes, there's Amazon, but a)shipping gets expensive, and b)I still enjoy the experience of visiting a brick-and-mortar bookshop and browsing through the tomes. It's probably ironic how, in the age of the Internet, physical books are still so eminently popular. Popular enough, in fact, to fall under the "80% of everything is shit" maxim. For proof, go no further than the guest segments on The Daily Show.

I saw something in NYC that is even better than Waterstone's, or Barnes & Noble, or Borders. The biggest bookstore in Manhattan does a very brisk business in second hand. They actually have a section and staff dedicated to buying back people's books.

This is an idea that, I think, would be extremely beneficial to Tartu. I have actually considered doing it myself, except for the fact that I am far too lazy to handle all the minutiae of starting up and running a small business; I would need to find a really good manager and stay a silent investor type myself. (I do know a person who'd be perfect, but that very character quality means she's already quite busy with various organizational duties.) But I genuinely think that a slightly used book store could be successful in this town. Tartu has an Apollo and a Rahva Raamat, and the university bookshop, but beyond that it's just antique stores with derelict wares. There must be others like me in this town, people with shelves stuffed with books they enjoyed once but probably won't re-read in the future. If, say, the average new English-language paperback costs 150 EEK, my shop could buy them back for 50 and sell for 75. And we don't have to limit ourselves to English books, the point rather is to offer a cheap alternative for modern, mainstream literature, in any (physical) form. How many times do you think we would re-sell the same Harry Potter volume, collecting a profit each time? I gather that US videogame stores have been doing quite well off that model.

And no, I wouldn't be competing with libraries: they have a limited selection, aren't motivated to keep up with demand, and come with a built-in obligation to return the book by a certain deadline. Ownership just feels good.

Until I get off my ass and make this happen, however, here's the next best thing: BookMooch. It's the book version of an idea some friends and I threw around for a while, the International Beer Exchange - the point was to mail a bottle of your local brew to someone far away, and get a credit that you could use to request a different flavour from elsewhere. (I even owned the domain for a while.) My plans for the Slightly Used Book Shop did actually involve providing the service across Estonia, using the SmartPOST network. BookMooch is a more Web2.0 community-ish affair: you list the books you no longer want, and people can show their interest. You send off the book, and get an arbitrary credit that you can use to request another book from someone else. Encouragingly, Estonia is actually already represented quite well, with around 60 books currently available.

Here's my page on that service. Sign up, and tell your friends about the service!


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