Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Blog

For a number of reasons I'm switching away from Blogger so please update any links or bookmarks you may have and point them to the new site which can be found here:

I apologize for the minor inconvenience this change causes but in the long run it'll be better for me to host my own stuff.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Alcohol Politics

Alcohol politics are a popular topic in Estonia, no one seems to agree on what restrictions if any should exist. In Ontario the topic rarely comes up but sometimes it's pretty obvious what side has won. (Note the # of outlets open).


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Shock Doctrine - Review

I just finished reading Naomi Klein's latest book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism". I enjoyed her previous book, No Logo, quite a bit so I was looking forward to this one.

The book starts out with an in depth recount of experiments conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly at McGill University in Montreal, that studied a severe method of mental therapy on patients. This therapy involved braking down patients to their infantile level using methods such as intense periods of isolation followed by sensory overload, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. Once a patient had been "broken down" it was believed that doctors to "remake" the patients and cure all sorts of mental ailments. A lot of this research has been later used as the base for modern interrogation (torture?) employed by around the world. Klein also argues that basic principals of this research has been used on a much larger scale to inflict mass therapy on entire nations, braking them down to their basic level and wipe out any resistance in order to implement radical reforms that would otherwise be opposed by the majority of the population.

The book then spends a lot of time focusing it's critique on Milton Friedman and his so called "Chicago Boys", staunch free market economist who's main goal is remove any government interference in economics and let corporations run free. The first nations to implement Friedman's policies were Latin and South American nations, such as Chile under Pinochet, which had removed left leaning governments from office and been taken over by right wing dictatorships that brutally repressed it's people. In many of these countries Chicago trained economist came into powerful positions and privatized industries, raised prices, laid of public servants and generally screwed the poor.

Klein explains that Chicago boys learned that during times of instability they would be able to influence public policy (generally through institutions like the IMF) in order to advance their agenda of free market theory. Klein cites examples all over the world where disasters (man-mad or natural) have occurred and how states have been pressured into selling off their assets and opening up their economy to foreigners for plunder. Some of the examples include:
  • Poland right after the Solidarity movement won elections.
  • Russia after the fall of communism.
  • South East Asia after the tsunami of 2004
  • South Africa at the end of the apartheid
In all of these cases, Klein argues that Chicago trained and influence policy makers pushed through radical reforms that would never otherwise get passed in order to benefit big business.

I'm not sure that I agreed 100% with Klein's arguments, for sure there are numerous cases where corporations got sweetheart deals and it does seem like the IMF is more than happy to saddle struggling nations with a lot of debt and commitments but I don't think it's all that black and white. One example she talks about is Poland's shipyards closing shortly after communism fell, she seems to attribute this to western corporations raiding the factories and closing them maliciously, while the more likely cause is simply that communist era factories were generally a mess and in no way capable of staying open without the Soviet era subsidies they once had.

The section that is the most striking is about the Iraq war and the general outsourcing of the American government to private contractors. After 9/11 the "homeland security" industry grew from nowhere and all sorts of firms started selling services to the government. Most of these firms were run by former government officials who in some cases came back to the government at set policy that would often help their firms. The amount of ineptitude (or sheer corruption?) that occurred in the first months of the Iraq war were stunning. The people in charge were more concerned with getting Wal-Mart and Haliburton on the ground than they were saving Iraqi lives. Iraqis were excluded from working on reconstruction projects while contractors were guaranteed costs, plus profit. She also has a chapter on New Orleans and how corporations were given billions in reconstruction contracts (almost always no-bid) only to see the money get disappear with little to show for it even to this day.

There's more than enough in this book to get you riled up and upset about how some countries have been taken advantage by government and big business. But in general, Klein is a little too lefty for me. She doesn't offer much in terms of solutions, the book left me the impression that she believes that if only the entire world were run by Chavez and Morales and if corporations were all in the hands of governments we'd all be better off. Not sure I agree with that.

Overall the book was a decent read. Not as good as her previous one, a bit harder to get through and a little repetitive but overall worth reading if you enjoy this type of anti-corporate book.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Estonia's nuclear ambitions

There's been talk in the press recently about whether or not Estonia should build it's own nuclear power plant. To me this is an odd questions so I started reading up on it a bit.

Estonia has always been electricity independent thanks to it's abundance of oil shale deposits in the east and the large power plants near Narva which provide more than enough power for the country and even a little left over to sell to neighbors.

In 2013 the EU electricity market opens up and due to the dirty nature of Estonia's electricity generation it will become prohibitively expensive to produce power (they charge a high CO2 tax on oil shale). So Eesti has started looking into alternative methods to get electricity. The past couple of years Eesti Energia has been talking with the Lithuanians about a partnership to build a new plant in Ignelina where there is a plant right now that has to be shut down shortly due to EU regulations. Apparently the negotiations haven't gone so well, the Poles want a large part of the generation and small Eesti may get pushed out of the deal. Eesti has also asked the Finns whether they can be a part of any future projects in the north since Finland has a number of nukes already running, this option doesn't look likely as they are in the process of building a plant and probably won't need a new one anytime soon.

Because none of these partnerships seem to be working the government has decided to investigate whether building their own, small nuke plant would be a good idea. A couple of locations out on the eastern coast have been mentioned and there is talk of taking the CO2 money that they'll be making in the next couple of years and investing it in a plant that will ensure the future of Estonia's electrical independence.

Does Estonia really need to spend the money to build a plant? Are there no other alternatives? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Post War: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Review

I recently finished reading Tony Judt's excellent book on the history of Europe after WW2. It's a well written overview of the events that shaped modern Europe and describes in detail how the rise of the EU and it's institutions came to be.

It also delves deeply into the conditions and events in Eastern Europe and how they shaped (or failed to shape) the rest of the continent. The first couple of chapters were of particular interest to me, the short period after the war and before the Cold War set in was a precarious time for all of Europe. Security and economic uncertainty was everywhere and a lot of decisions were made with the assumption that Germany could one day rise to threaten the world again.

There were a number of interesting sections that discussed Estonia and its directs neighbors and events that I was either unaware of or found interesting, some of those sections I'll mention here.

Early in the book the author discusses the effects of collective farms and farm quotas on the local populations and how out of touch they were:

The Baltic States, fully incorporated into the Soviet Union itself, were even worse off than the rest of eastern Europe. 1949, kolkhozes in northern Estonia were required to begin grain deliveries even before the harvest had begun, in order to keep in line with Latvia, four hundred kilometers to the south. By 1953 rural conditions in hitherto prosperous Estonia had deteriorated to the point where cows blown over by the wind were too weak to get back on their feet unaided.

Another section that discussed Sweden and the successful social democratic model they employed also mentions various eugenics programs (attempts at racial improvement that usually involved sterilization) that were by run by Uppsala university. I had no idea that such programs existed and continued to exist until 1976.

The chapter on the 1960's discusses some of the reforms that Krushchev tried to undertake, one of which was a small attempt at private farms which apparently worked a little too well.

"By the early sixties, the 3 percent of cultivated soil in private hands was yielding over a third of the Soviet Union's agricultural output."

When discussing centralized planning in East Germany there are some comedic references to the strict nature of quotas that existed.

"It was announced that Book-holdings in the libraries are to be increased from 350k to 450k volumes. The number of borrowings is to be increased 108.2 percent".

In the section about the creation of a common EU currency the author mentions how Germany pushed hard for stringent rules to ensure that the new currency would mimic the policies of the old Deutchmark. This is of particular interest for Eesti as they have been unable to meet the criteria to join the Euro zone simply because inflation grew as the economy heated up.

"The German negotiators - wary of the profligate tendencies of 'Club Med' countries like Italy or Spain - imposed draconian conditions for membership of the new currency."

Overall I thought the book was one of the most readable history books I've read and provided me with a good base for understanding a lot of current EU (and Russian) issues. So if you're looking for a nice 800+ page book to cozy up with next to the fireplace on a wintery night I highly recommend it.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 01, 2008

Pet Peeve

Can someone explain to me why such a large bottle is needed for such small pills?

I know that the probably only make 1 or 2 sizes of bottles to accommodate the largest size pills but really, this is a waste of packaging.

Labels: ,

Skype vs. Scrabulous

Scrabulous is the popular Facebook application that got into trouble for ripping off the original Scrabble game.

It appears that they also have a strikingy similar logo to Skype. :)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Teder vs Jõks

Reform has given their support to Indrek Teder and it's likely that he'll become the next õiguskantsler (Estonia's version of a constitutional ombudsmen). Teder has supported a recent decision of Jõks where parliament members can't sit on the board of directors of companies (not sure if it's just government firms or all firms?) so it should be interesting to see if Teder gets chosen if he'll push this through against the wishes of Reform and Kesk.

To me it just looks like the main requirement for this job is being bald with think rimmed glasses. :)

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Australian advisories

There's an amusing article in most of todays Canadian dailies about Australia's official travel advisory website which warns to "exercise caution" when traveling to Canada. The site lists Canada as more of a risk then Chile, South Korea and Latvia to name a few.

Some of the major dangers in Canada include:

- Risk of terrorist attack
- Petty crime such as pick pocketing and street theft occurs at tourist destinations, hotels and on public transport.
- The province of British Columbia in western Canada is in an active earthquake zone
- Alberta and British Columbia are also subject to avalanches. Tornadoes can occur in some areas of Canada between May and September.
- Bush and forest fires can occur any time in Canada. (Fires in the winter?)

I checked Estonia out on their site. Eesti is consider one step safer than Canada, some of the dangers include:
- You should avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent.
- Driving in Estonia can be dangerous due to local driving practices, poorly maintained roads and vehicles, and inadequate road lighting.
- When you are in Estonia, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you.

Canada sure sounds like a scary place. :)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fox "News"

The post below contained a video clip from a Fox debate, in which Ron Paul ripped the host a new one when asked why he was running since he wasn't electable.

Fox apparently cut this from the debate (not sure if that's 100% true) and now they've gotten it removed from YouTube even though there are thousands of other Fox clips on the site.

A lot of people claim that the mainstream media is purposefully ignoring Ron Paul, I'm starting to believe that may be true.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 11, 2008

Straight talk

Ron Paul has some pretty kooky ideas but boy is it nice to see an honest politician once and awhile.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You're fired

There's a lot of ink being spent in Estonia on a new employment law that was announced yesterday. I haven't read many specifics about the law, mainly because most of the press is going towards the battle between Reform and the Sotsid who dislike the bill. I gather that the bill makes firing employees easier which is upsetting a lot of people, if anyone has more details on the actual bill I'd love to hear them.

What did strike me as interesting in this bill is that it provides every employee with 15 days a year for an "educational vacation". I think this a great idea, it's a way to ensure that your population continues to upgrade their skills and gives employees a chance to break from the everyday work life and learn something new and interesting. I expect we'll see a proliferation of schools and companies offering 2 week courses in all sorts of topics if this bill passes.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

An surprise benefit of Shengen

Apparently Nashi activists are pissed at Estonia again (although I don't think they ever stopped). This time it is because as of last month when Eesti joined the Shengen visa free zone which allows for border free travel in the EU they have shared their "banned list" of people denied entry to Estonia with the rest of the EU. Because of this there are a number of Nashi (reportedly around 2000) who are now barred from entering any Shengen country, essentially all of the EU except England and Ireland. Nashi activists have gotten so obsessed with getting to Tallinn that they've resorted to crossing borders illegally on foot.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Has Rudy Guliani resurrected George Orwell and put him in charge of his ads?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Something is off

Does this seem normal to you?