I don't want to be hasty, but it looks like Latvia really is doomed -- doomed to be led by a humourless bunch of bureaucrats who insist on doing things by the book when they aren't taxing books at exorbitant rates. Just yesterday, the government was handed a golden opportunity to create or burnish a legend, and maybe even ultimately earn some tourist dollars in the process. Reports came in that a meteorite had landed, creating a crater eight meters in diameter. While it did make international news, it was only a blip. The whole story was over in less than 24 hours, dismissed as a hoax. But it didn't have to be over.
The meteorite theme has resonance here -- this part of the world happens to have the highest concentration of meteorite activity anywhere, at least over the last couple thousand years. The debris might be random rocks, of course, but can anyone really resist the notion that someone somewhere might be crashing space junk into southern Estonia to see if bogs really contain methane and water? I can't. There's the whole matter of why the local bus stop near our country home looks like a eight-legged landing craft and why some people in local villages don't talk when you speak to them. All this deserves to be better publicized.
To be frank, the crater was rather impressive. I'm aware that digging a hole doesn't take the skill of flattening grain without damaging the stalks, but there weren't any glaringly obvious signs of a hoax -- no pile of dirt next to the hole -- and there was even some authentic-seeming charring at the bottom of the pit, though I suppose it might just as well have been the remnants of a campfire. In any case, experts seemed dismissive but not completely sure. Radioactivity experts were called in just to be safe, possibly on the assumption that if it were an alien spacecraft it would probably have a nuclear reactor on board. All this was very well. Nor could it have squandered too much of the taxpayer money that the government is otherwise so careful to avoid spending. I looked forward to a week of news, visits by international experts.
But it all ended too soon. The whole story ran its course in less than a day. A wireless operator took credit for it as a marketing stunt, and the government muttered that it would look into starting a criminal case, which is government's answer to everything, especially any sort of non-conformism. I suppose if Orson Welles had operated here in 1939, he would probably have never worked again. Certainly don't think of claiming to have seen a strange creature in a bog -- look how damaging that whole Loch Ness thing has been to Scotland's economy, tourist sector, and the reputation of its institutions.
The thing is, unlike the company that carved out the crater, Latvia itself (or Estonia) doesn't seem to realize that it needs harmless stunts like this, not only to give people some fake reality entertainment during the recession, but also to create an international commotion. I would even say the Baltic governments need to look into a PPP partnership in this area -- folk costumes and bogs only go a limited distance. I actually think this -- not the absence of copywriting talent or miscommunication -- is why the best Estonia could come up with for a marketing slogan one year was a shield emblazoned the words "Welcome to Estonia" (Look at us, our country does typographic clip art. Come stay with us.) A spaceman narrative, even if it were fake and most of the world thought so, is so much better.
Government takes itself too seriously; I guess it can't be helped. But I think we should be a little buffoonish. Sometimes it seems we are just as anti-Boratist as the government of Kazakhstan. We hate to be the fools too much, we insist on setting the record straight. But since the real estate boom ended, big holes in the ground don't open up everyday, not perfectly round ones.
If I were king for a day, I would have kept up the game much longer. I would have taken it out of the hoaxers' hands and made it my story. I would have sealed off the entire site immediately and deployed military units in the countryside to suggest that perhaps something more than a chunk of hot rock fell from the sky. Perhaps I would have even put in a request for Estonia to do the same on its side of the border. I would have made it hard (though not impossible) for the public to get close to the site at first. A big radius is the operative word. Make the population think something big is happening. Such actions could veer off into sowing mass panic, but with a little skill, the seeds could have been laid for a Roswell-type story that would persist for years. Sure, the wireless operator could feebly insist that it had dug the crater, but people would be much more attracted to the option of believing that something unexplained happened and that the government tried unsuccessfully to cover up. And the government can always ham it up; it is best in the role of incompetent bumbler with rival agencies with different agendas.
In the US, you had the balloon boy, another relatively harmless stunt, especially since, as we all know now, the boy was not in the balloon. Without trying to affect morally superiority here, I think people got sidetracked by a kind of mob mentality -- it became more enjoyable to pillory the father while the story should have arguably produced is a sense of wonder. Hello? This family was building balloons! I don't know about your neighbours, but my neighbours don't build balloons you can ride in. They just mow their lawn and watch TV. I don't even know anyone who flies model rockets; maybe they have been banned in most municipalities. So I thought this was highly significant. No matter how nutty the family or what caused them to do what they did (maybe they waited too long to 'fess up) it conjured up images of Goddard and Wright. In this case, they were believers in flight -- they at least pretended to believe that their son might have been carried off in a balloon, and pretense is a start.