This is everyone’s addiction here in New York. When bored the solution is easy – just go to YouTube and watch a video from The Smiths. Anyway here’s four of my picks for you …

1. The Nomads versus The Philistines “HALA”

I went to school with Nizar (of Palestinian origins) and CJ (of Filipino origins). Toward the end of the final year, CJ said that he was working on music tracks for Nizar’s rhymes and that Nizar was putting together a rap group called “The Philistines.” They moved to LA and now have a music video. Enjoy…

2. Jefferson Airplane “The House at Pooneil Corners”

Before U2 did it, and before the Beatles did it, Jefferson Airplane did it. The band from San Francisco put on a live show on a roof in New York in 1968, captured on film by Jean-Luc Godard. It still seems like a cool stunt, and they sound pretty good live. Listen for singer Marty Balin’s wake up “Wake up fuckers! Free music! Free love! Get some!” Their song is one of their most apocalyptic. It was written the year Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, and we had the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By all accounts a bad year.

3. France Gall “Les Sucettes”

Oh dear. This is French pop singer France Gall singing “Les Sucettes.” It’s a song penned by Serge Gainsbourg about lollipops, but really it’s a song about fellatio. Apparently France Gall, then just about 17 years old, didn’t get the innuendo. She supposedly ended her professional relationship with Gainsbourg after she found out what she was singing about.

4. Baltic Chain

And for your baltic fix, here’s a video of the Baltic Chain from August 1989. Better get out your handkerchief. It’s a tear jerker.


Well folks, today is the day that Toomas-Hendrik Ilves, the man that sold Estonia as “the world’s only post-communist Nordic country”, gets his 64 votes from the Riigikogu. Like Oliver Twist, Ilves will look up and say, “Please sir, may I have some more?” But most likely there will be none.

The greatest criticisms of Ilves are that he is arrogant and he was raised in the US. He therefore does not “know” rural Estonia although he lives there with his wife and children. That very well may be. But it is also true that over the past five years, Arnold Rüütel has remained mostly invisible on an international level. When he speaks he says little, if he can be bothered to speak at all.

In reality he hasn’t even campaigned for office this year. He has sat there as useful vanilla, void of any flavor. Rüütel is smarter than he comes across and I think his patient hand has been useful at times. But why should he now be chosen over someone that has actively campaigned for the position and enjoys the majority of popular support? That is baffling to anyone acquainted with reason.

Maybe some of the boys at Keskerakond will defect today. Or maybe the valimiskogu will be so disgusted with Savisaar and Reiljan that they will reject their nominee. Not to sound optimistic – we all know that in days like these it is best to suppress optimism about the future of the Estonian presidency – but this is not yet a done deal.


Answers to your excellent questions:

Kuidas läheb?


EPP – Why Estonia??? (Besides your lovely wife 😉

I have always been interested in the Nordic countries. When I was a small boy I used to read my brother’s set of encyclopedias and I remember reading about the Lapps who used reindeer for everything. It seemed so cool. And everything is cute and quiet and in pastel colours – it’s like the Japan of Europe. And underneath this cute exterior it has this menacing psychology of alcoholism and suicidal depression. Quite a combo.

EPP – Which countries would like to visit and live in?

To live? Of the places I’ve been I like Vancouver in Canada. I also liked Italy immensely. If I lived there for the rest of my life and was buried in an old dusty cemetery, I think I’d feel just fine. I also have strong urges to go to Brazil and Japan. In fact, I’d like to do a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, then Buenos Aires in Argentina, and then to Santiago, Chile.

INGA – I have a question about Estonian language – I have heard that it’s one of the most complicated languages to learn, is that so?

I haven’t tried to learn many other languages so I don’t know. I did take Spanish for a long time in school, but I was not particularly great at it and today I remember little. My Estonian is much better than my Spanish ever was.

Danish was hard to pronounce and I feel that Estonian pronunciation is easier, although the Scandinavian languages (aside from Icelandic) are pretty easy to read. Swedish is actually fairly easy to understand, if you have subtitles 🙂

The Slavic languages are very hard, in my opinion. I have learned some basic phrases, but it is so hard to remember words. Polish seems labrynthian. Russian is impenetrable and even harder because of the alphabet.

Italian doesn’t seem to be so bad. I can understand that even with the subtitles switched off. Portuguese is also not so hard for me because I listen to Brazilian music all of the time. So I can understand some basic stuff in there.

The real trouble with Estonian is not the cases. The cases are only tricky when you are speaking it. It’s the word order. You have to hear the whole sentence before you can digest it and understand it. In English you start from the very begining and ride the thoughts out to the end. But in Estonian the verb is often at the end. And Estonian sentences, particularly written ones, throw a lot of details into the beginning and then proceed to the action.

Another problem is all of those ü‘s, õ‘s, ä‘s, and ö‘s. I can’t even make the õ sound. I sort of make it, but it’s not the real õ sound.

The words are also quite tricky. Little changes in a root word can mean different things. For example, ei lähe means “don’t go” while ei lähenda means “doesn’t solve.”

But altogether, it’s not as hard as some other languages. Think about the people who have to learn Japanese or Korean or Chinese? Or how about even Finnish? have you seen Finnish lately?

Porvoon tuomikirkon sytyttämisestä syytteessä oleva askolalainen nuorukainen oli ilmoittanut aikeistaan kavereilleen hieman ennen tekoa. Sytyttäjä ja kaksi hänen seurassaan ollutta nuorta oli palaamassa toukokuun 29. päivänä aamuyöllä Porvoon keskustassa sijaitsevasta ravintolasta, kun 18-vuotias nuorukainen ilmoitti aikeistaan.

Ok, this has something to do with Porvoo’s dome church … I hear it burnt down. But still, Estonian is easier than Finnish. I’m glad I am not learning Finnish at this moment.

TATSUTAHIME – Kas sa tahaksid päriselt Eestis elada? Miks?

Eesti (praegu) on rahulik nurk maailmas. Mulle meeldib Hiuumaad, Saaremaad, ja Tartut. Me praegu elame New Yorgis. New Yorgil on palju kultuur – musik ja midagi mood – aga see linn on must. See küsimus on nii suur – mis koht elada ja miks. Aga tõde on kerge leida. Kui ühel kohal on pühas õhk ja tavaline elu – siis see on tervislik koht olla.

Millises riigis sa mingil juhul ei tahaks elada?

Kus meri ei ole.

JENS OLAF – Who cares about Estonia, who does?

I think Ukraine is the most important East European country for the North American and European foreign policy elite right now. There is this idea that the Baltics are too small and foreign for Russia to see them as a model, but that Ukraine can pave the way for Russian reform.

Estonia is a small, northern country. It is gifted with a small population and thus can distinguish itself by doing things that larger countries cannot. Estonia can have paper free government, and e-lections, and genome projects, and do many pioneering things because of its size and adaptability.

In that way it can distinguish itself.

Ergma Update

Well, it looks like Ene only got 65 votes. Period. There were not votes against her because Estonia’s minority parties decided that they had no reason to come to parliament to vote – even if it was against a candidate.

I’m not sure if KESK and ERL think this move makes them appear bold, but to me it seems childish. I hear it over and over again – “the president has no power, it’s not an important position, it’s just ceremonial.”

If so, why is it so important to KESK and ERL that they cannot even show their faces in parliament to do what they were elected to do and vote “yes” or “no.”

Ene would lose if they voted anyway but the reason KESK and ERL won’t vote is that their candidate hasn’t been selected. And the reason he hasn’t been selected is because he has refused to stand for reelection in parliament. Does that make sense to you? Pinch me. Are you sure we’re not in Wonderland?

Seriously Estonia, are these the guys you want running your country? Two party leaders that refuse to let their party members vote because they are too afraid of what might happen? One fair-weather incumbent who won’t stand for election in parliament because he knows that he’d lose there?

Is cowardice a virtue? If so, Estonia is thrice blessed.

Let them know how you feel:

Phone: +372 6273 460

Phone: +372 631 6202

Phone: +372 644 85 78

Sticking my nose in Estonia’s business …

Uh oh – it looks like I have just stuck my nose in Estonia’s business.

I wrote this piece – which sort of examines the pronkssõdur controversy from an American perspective, on my own, and without the intention of having it published in an Estonian national newspaper. However, it was submitted to Postimees and they liked it enough to publish it. Since I read Postimees everyday (what I can read of it) I was honored to be party to the debate.

Anyway I decided to add my 2 EEK to the ongoing dialogue about monuments and memories and wars. The basic point is that Estonia’s most uncontroversial heroes from the Second World War – the forest brothers – are being overlooked in the arguments about Nazis and Communists.

I also wanted to remind readers that Estonia isn’t an island and that the United States has similar controversial issues (like the use of the Confederate flag) and that it’s heroes from the American Revolution were controversial in their day. I even tried to draw a parallel between Estonia’s forest brothers and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, who were also derided as gangsters in their time (and many were).

Well anyway, I am happy to be published and to contribute to this discussion. It is very meaningful for me.

Democracy in Action Part II

Ok, since I am on vacation, let’s set our sights a little lower. If you want a vote in parliament on August 28, for whatever presidential candidate, you should probably contact members of the Center Party faction in the Riigikogu. It’s possible a few could show up, barring there isn’t too long a line at the Söörikukohvik. Here they are:

Ain Seppik
Vladimir Velman
Lauri Laasi
Küllo Arjakas
Enn Eesmaa
Eldar Efendijev
Helle Kalda
Arnold Kimber
Tiit Kuusmik
Olev Laanjärv
Heimar Lenk
Inara Luigas
Koit Pikaro
Nelli Privalova
Kaarel Pürg
Jüri Šehovtsov
Evelyn Sepp
Toivo Tootsen
Marika Tuus

I have no favorite in this race. I can see the positives and negatives for all candidates. But I do worry about tinkering with democracy in tiny Estonia. I have seen it in the US, and every time it happens it widens the disconnect between representatives and their constituents. One thing we Americans learn from traveling in East Europe is that people actually can make a change in their lives. Don’t believe me? Just ask those Germans who tore down the Berlin Wall. I’d prefer if there was at least a real vote in parliament come August 28.

15 Things Estonia has Given the World Since 1991

Cross Country Heroics – Andrus Veerpalu took the gold medal in men’s 15km cross country skiing at Salt Lake City in 2002, followed by Jaak Mae who took the bronze. Veerpalu also took the silver in the 50km at Salt Lake, and took the gold in Turin this year in the 15km men’s cross country. Kristina Šmigun (pictured) won two gold medals in Turin this year in cross county skiing.

Vanilla Ninja – The Estonian pop quartet, then trio, then quartet, then trio again scored their own kohuke, their own ice cream, made it huge in their own country and then went onto become the hottest musical act in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland since Wagner.

Carmen Kass – I am not one to be caught watching programs on models and/or modeling, but even I know who Carmen Kass is. What most Americans don’t know is that she was a candidate for European Parliament and that she starred in a film with Buratino himself, Priit Võigemast called Täna Öösel Me Ei Maga (Tonight we don’t sleep)in 2004.

Skype – True, Skype is based these days in Luxembourg, but its primary code was written in Tallinn, where one of its main offices is located. I didn’t take Skype seriously until it seemed like just about every human being I knew was using it as a verb as in “Just Skype Me.”

Mart Laar – Yeah, Isamaa may have just four seats in parliament, but Mart Laar is still a favorite global dinner guest from Chicago to T’bilisi. In the year 2006, a year he could have spent on his butt in Viljandimaa, Laar split his time between Estonia, accepting prizes and writing op-eds in the the US and UK, and advising Georgia’s president on economic reform.

Flat tax – There’s no photo that can describe how much credit Estonia has given to instituting a flat tax. The way right-leaning newspapers gush over Estonian economic reforms you’d think that Estonia was no longer a land of old ladies who’ve been wearing the same clothes (and looking at the same wallpaper) for 30+ years. Just check out the news this month. Read about Estonia in the Global Politician, Voice of America, or L’Express. From Mauritius to Manhattan they’ve all heard of the Estonian flat tax revolution.

Nice Beaches – That’s why everyone comes. It’s not the deep harbors. It’s not even the attractive women. Danes, Swedes, Germans, Russians, Poles. They all came – and are still coming – for the nice beaches. Even if summer only lasts two weeks.
It seems silly, but when you consider that Sweden and Finland harbor mostly rocks and little sand, you can understand why they are more eager to go across the sea to Estonia than to take a plane to Thailand.

Markko Märtin – If you follow off-road racing, you’ve heard of this gentleman. Märtin sadly lost his partner, Michael Park, last year, but Estonia erected a monument to Park in his honor in Tallinn. Even the prime minister showed up to express his sympathies.

British Stag Parties – from Red Seven, the “World’s Leaning Hen and Stag Company” –

What a difference the collapse of Communism has made! Some things may have stayed the same – the narrow, cobbled winding streets and medieval walls remain from centuries ago, making this capital of Estonia an undeniably beautiful city. Yet what was once a sleepy Baltic backwater is now one of the most vibrant Stag party destinations in Europe.

Free from the masses that have descended upon Prague, Tallinn is now rightly cultivating a reputation for offering those essential Stag weekend ingredients: plenty to see, plenty to do, plenty of gorgeous women, cheap food and drink, fantastic daytime activities and amazing nightlife. What more do you want?!

Wife Carrying Record Holders – Estonia has won every single Wife Carrying Championship held in Sonkajärvi, Finland since 1998.
In 2003, Margo Uusorg and Egle Soll set a world record of one minute and 0,7 seconds.

The Estonian Genome Project
The Estonian Genome project hasn’t spun out its own DeCode Genetics just yet, but it still put a very small country on the map for anyone interested in genetics/genomics.

Cheap (and skilled) Labor – From New York to London to Sydney, Estonian workers are painting ships, remodeling apartments, waiting tables, and babysitting the children of privilege.
Before 1991, they had to flee a repressive political system. These days they just have to buy some tickets ahead of time on RyanAir.

Juhan Parts – Cockheaded and cocksure, Peaminister Juhan must have felt swell when he got to run the Estonian government, shake hands with Tony Blair, join the EU, and join NATO – all before his 40th birthday.
Sure, he’s out of the spotlight now, but rest assured, Juhan will be back.

Flustered Putin – There was nothing better than watching Vladimir Putin’s brow wrinkle and his voice grow tighter every time the Balts mentioned the word “occupation” in the runup to his big Communist party in Moscow in 2005.

Plentiful Booze – Being a nation of functional alcoholics, Estonia has established itself as the place to get drunk. Finns come to load up and then bring some home. And most others’ tales of Tallinn usually include hazy memories, finding secluded places to pee, and perhaps, even getting sick in Old Town.

And that’s just fifteen things. We left out Lennart Meri, Edgar Savisaar, Kalev chocolates, and Rakvere meats. If you have anything else to add, please do!

Eestlaseks jään …

Some people think that history is irrelevant. But nerds like me like to filter through history and find interesting facts to digest for hours on end. Recently we went to Strand Bookstore in New York, and they had a world atlas from 1665. First I turned to the Italian pages to see if the villages my ancestors called home were on the map and what kind of interesting drawings – pirates, sea serpents, volcanoes – were drawn next to them.

Then I tried to find my wife’s country, Estonia, and I turned to the Russian Empire. But there was no Estonia there. After long consternation, I turned to the front of the atlas to the first country represented – “Suecia”. “That’s right”, I thought. “Estonia was once part of Sweden.” As natural as it once was for people to think of Estonia as belonging to Russia, it was at one time just as easy for cartographers to think of Estonia as 100 percent Swedish.

Now, it is my hope, that after 15 years of freedom, people will continue to think of Estonia as just Estonia. Tomorrow, according to the Estonian Foreign Ministry, the prime ministers of Estonia and Iceland will mark the 15th anniversary of Iceland’s re-recognition of Estonian independence with events and ceremonies in Tallinn.

The PMs will on that day inaugurate a memorial plaque to be placed on the facade of the Foreign Ministry which is also designed to explain the background of the name of the square. The granite plaque bears an inscription in Estonian, Icelandic and English: “The Republic of Iceland was the first state to recognize, on 22 August 1991, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia.” An exhibit on the history of Estonian-Icelandic relations will be opened in the Foreign Ministry lobby.

Though they are many miles apart, Estonia shares much with Iceland, which only became independent in 1944. It also shares much with other “new” republican governments in Europe, from Ireland to its neighbor Finland. At one time these countries did not exist on the map. But today nobody thinks twice about their independence. That’s a good thing.