President Ilves on Estonia

“For the visitor unfamiliar with Estonia, the smallness and flatness of the country can be deceptive. Like the taciturn and reticent Estonians, the subdued landscape, with its absence of emotionally dramatic vistas and panoramatic heights, recalls in the late 20th century an earlier time, quieter and more spare, where there simply were fewer people in the world, where things were quieter and nature, rather deceptively, more pervasive. Nature in Estonia does not intrude on the consciousness through drama, but through its sheer presence. One does not need a Mont Blanc, a Grand Canyon or the Rhine river valley to be struck by Nature. A quiet meadow, a primeval forest, a spawning island for Baltic Sea seals, all quietly assert the primacy of Nature over human artifice.”

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, quoted in the Regio Road Atlas, 1998.

International Trafficking

I’m surfacing again after a long communication hiatus to let you all know about a prayer request we’ll be offering up for the next few weeks.

While driving outside of Tallinn with a friend of ours two weeks ago I came upon a police check point. They warned me about a broken tail light but in checing my papers they doubted the validity of my intenational drivers license. They gave me a temporary suspension of the license until the issue could be clarified so I’m currently relegated to the passenger seat – a minor inconvenience.

What is much more worrisome is that we’ve discovered that while the document normally expires a year from issue, in Estonia it is only valid for a year from issue of the holder’s residence permit. After this point, an Estonian driver’s license is necessary. Since my residence permit was issued in January of 2008, I was essentially caught driving without a license. While the situation seems understandable enough, we are quite worried because the police have been leveling large fines in order to make up for budget shortfalls. The largest this ticket could be is roughly 1,500 USD.

Please pray that the ticket will be as small as possible and that my preparations for the Estonian driver’s test will go quickly.

Escaping the Tax Man

Can’t do it. At least if you can, don’t ask me how. Unless of course, you skip the “man” altogether and just go wired.

That’s what Lea just did using the Estonian tax filing web site. Her income, all charitable contributions, every taxable item have all been registered in the system. She logs in, answers a few questions about family changes and demographics, punches send and that’s that. Done before I can type out a quick blog post.

Yes, I am envious. Now where did I put that W2?

Spam & Systemic Evil

One click is all a spammer needs to know he can flood your inbox with advertisements. The spammers send you a couple of phony emails about male enhancement, cheap prescription drugs or a new source of echinacea and hope that you’ll find something worth clicking on. Once you click, you have identified yourself as a living, spending entity on the internet and now the game is over.

I just had a comment written on my blog the other day from an “Adam”. He mentioned some common names of people we apparently knew and gave a generic line about warm memories and requested I get in touch. The email looked fishy and I couldn’t think of who this Adam might be so I deleted the comment. Just too vague to be real. If you want to avoid spam, you have to consistently say “no”.

I think there is something in all this for understanding the current global economic mess. I think it is true that we are becoming aware of systemic evils – what the Bible refers to as “principalities”. But the question is always asked, how do you get from personal sin to victimization under evil systems. Are the people in these systems just more evil and combine forces to predate the rest of us? I don’t think so.

Systemic evil is like spam. It only grows if you say yes. A predatory lender cannot predate if potential customers are circumspect enough to analyze their own income and outflow and to check their hunger for advance. It is interesting to note that even given all that God created for them, Adam and Eve still hungered after the one thing they could see but could not have. Our systems have indeed become evil but this is only true because we incrementally and consistently said “yes” to the offer for one more serving … or at least did not say “no”.

Saying “no” would have meant simpler lifestyles. Less comfort, less style, less leisure. It would have meant a slower economy and less innovation while the rest of the world seemed to sprint ahead. Given the opportunity to avoid this dull reality, I don’t think many would turn down the offer. I don’t know that I would. In fact, I usually kick myself for reacting too slowly when I do. But restraint on the part of individual consumers at all levels of our economy would have meant that the offers that we now know got us into this mess would have expired on the shelves.

The analysts saying that we’ve only just begun to right these wrongs are telling us the truth. Getting back out won’t just require policies and bailouts, it will require those of us at the bottom of the pyramid to consistently say no. It may be important that we say “no” to corporate bailouts (though I think it’s too late for that given that this is the basket we’ve put all our eggs in). But more importantly it will take me saying “no” to myself and to my own inquenchable thirst for the one thing I can see but cannot have.