Look Both Ways Crossing Autobahn

Monday, August 28th, 2017

“Grieving Momma-Duck Paralyzes Traffic on the A3 Autobahn” – it’s quite a story, a tragedy, really, reported by the Rheinische Post from news-agency dispatches.


As we humans know, you actually never try to walk across the Autobahn in Germany, not unless we’re talking about a pedestrian overpass. But this momma-duck didn’t know anything about that, and apparently led her brand-new brood of ducklings onto Autobahn 3, at the spot just to the west of Cologne where it crosses Autobahn 4 coming from the west.

That brood numbered a bit more than five ducklings. We know at least “five” because, unfortunately, that was how many smashed duckling bodies were left there on the pavement, before the momma-duck and the rest of the ducklings managed to get off the highway quick and into the surrounding foliage.

The problem was that the momma-duck then reappeared at the same spot around three hours later, presumably trying to find out what had happened to her missing progeny. She was harder to drive away this time; for whatever reason, there were firefighters on the scene, but she wouldn’t let herself be caught nor be shooed away from the Autobahn – where, we can assume, the on-coming high-speed traffic was staring to make things dangerous.

So the police shut the Autobahn down! For the duck! As they tried to chase her away, which is where she went after about half an hour. (I would have loved to hear the report on the traffic bulletin broadcast by both national and the local radio stations!)

Now, this happened during the day last Wednesday, so a business day but with perhaps traffic a little less thick than usual because for many it was the tail-end of summer vacation. But the traffic was undoubtedly still substantial – this is Autobahn 3, people, the Autobahn coming out of Cologne and paralleling the Rhine southward for a while before heading eastwards to Frankfurt am Main, and beyond.

I have never heard of the Dutch authorities ever shutting down a highway due to any bird. Then again, in a couple of places there highways do have “animal” overpasses, that is, bridges built over the highway from the woods on one side to the woods on the other, for wildlife to use. These are expensive, of course, and perhaps one could argue about their actual benefits to the public versus their costs; but then again, perhaps Germany could take up this idea and add a couple of these to its infrastructure budget nonetheless. Sorry, no sort of “public service announcements” are going to be able to educate the ducks!

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Don’t Make Germans Like They Used To

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Perhaps it is untoward to quote oneself, but in this case my tweet of a few days ago has to be revised and extended in light of further information.

Aldi
In particular, I put there “after complaints,” but in that I was just being faithful to the original article out of De Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper.

Aldi received at the beginning of last week the first complaints. One customer asked them not to use anymore the mosque, a religious symbol, on the label. Then a discussion arose on the Internet, after which Aldi pulled the soap from the shelves.

Now another version of events has arisen, this time from an actual German source:

AldiSeife
According to this, it wasn’t “complaints”; it was one complaint about that mosque on the soap-label, from one guy on Facebook. This is backed up by this report from the local newspaper from the area where this Aldi store is located (North Rhine-Westphalia).

Shitstorm

The customer argued that the mosque and minaret of the Muslims were to be observed with respect and dignity. “And it is precisely for this reason that I do not find it suitable that one should put this illustration, so full of meaning, on just any consumer product.”

That was all that it took: off of the shelves those bottles of liquid soap flew! But in that last tweet you’ll perhaps have notice a recent addition to German public vocabulary: “shitstorm.” That is what ensued: Aldi promptly came under fire for its action (although I’m unaware that that has caused them to reverse it and start selling the soap with those labels again).

But that was last week – the first full week after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. This week saw something similar, in fact even more alarming. The usual Monday-evening march of the new, anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement in Dresden was canceled by the authorities – and of course the counter-demonstrations that had been planned for that evening as well – because of a threat that had been received against Lutz Bachman, one of the movement’s leaders until, just two days ago, he resigned after pictures of him posing as Adolph Hitler became public. (more…)

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“Now Recep – BeHAVE Yourself!”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

A heads-up for whoever is going to be in Cologne tomorrow, things could get interesting.

You might recall how we wrote on these pages about a month ago about German President Joachim Gauck’s visit to Turkey a month ago, and the waves he made there. Well, what goes around, comes around: the Turkish Premier Erdogan is due in Cologne on Saturday:

Erdogan_in_DE
“Cologne visit by Turkish PM: Merkel calls for restraint from Erdogan.” Now, this is no sort of state visit, neither Merkel nor Gauck will be anywhere near him, but rather the sort of sojourn Erdogan likes to make from time to time to go shore up his support among the many citizens of Turkish nationality living in Germany.

Unfortunately, the political situation back in the Motherland has been steadily deteriorating, hurried along by the deaths of 301 workers in the recent Soma mine disaster there and the public’s angry reaction to that. In a newspaper interview earlier in the week, Merkel said Erdogan was of course welcome to come give his speech, but “I insist that he does this on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity.”

Sensitivity, however, has rarely proven to be PM Erdogan’s strong suit. Indeed, his people seem not to be approaching the event in a very constructive manner:

RP_ErdoganFall
“Turkey fears a trap for Erdogan in Cologne.” But why? Because the German authorities also approved no less than eight counter-demonstrations in the city on the same day. No wonder the Turks are suspicious: they would simply forbid any such counter-demonstrations, and no doubt were ready to do so during President Gauck’s visit there last month – if anyone had actually applied to hold any.

Cologne streets could turn into quite a scrum on Saturday, but the latter Rheinische Post article at least has published the following almost military-looking map to help you make your way. FYI, the stadium-event where Erdogan will actually be speaking is the one the furthest to the right that says Veranstaltung UETD.

Koln
(For those asking, the title to this post was inspired by the Beatles, who even back in the early 1960s could sing remarkably presciently about world affairs.)

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Drops the Other Electoral Schuh

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

A coming high point in European Union affairs is the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for the period 22-25 May, which will be for all 751 seats. They were made more exciting (if you find them exciting at all in the first place) by an extraordinary intervention a few weeks ago by the German Federal Constitutional Court, which struck down the 3% threshold that had been required of individual political parties for gaining representation in the European Parliament at all.

The reason that this made those upcoming EP elections a bit more exciting is that it means that the way is open now for representatives from all sorts of wacky parties to take their seats there come June, although be forewarned that these parties are more likely to be “wacky” as in “unsavory” – like the German neo-Nazi NPD, for example, and also quite likely indeed to be ideologically opposed to the very institution into which they are gaining admission – rather than as in “loony.” (There is no European equivalent to the UK’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party that I am aware of, for example.)

Nonetheless, five of the judges on that German Federal Court (out of eight) concluded that there was no more need for any such electoral threshold to “preserve the European Parliament’s ability to function.” Fine, then, but the legislatures of a handful of other EU member-states do still retain this sort of electoral threshold – in particular, Germany itself, with a 5% hurdle to gain representation in the Bundestag!

Inevitably, then, this has come along:

Prozenthurd
Yes, it’s Die Linke, or “The Left” which is the German political party now calling on that domestic electoral hurdle to be abolished. That’s the party representing the left-over of the old SED, i.e. the “unity” party which dominated the former German “Democratic” Republic (East Germany) in a far from democratic manner.

Let’s remember why that 5% barrier was inserted into Germany’s post-WWII federal constitution in the first place: because the constitution of the Weimar Republic before Hitler did not have any such rule, and it was the proliferation of pissant political parties in the Reichstag that made the State almost ungovernable and paved the way to power for the Nazis.

Indeed – and as you would expect – representatives of the more mainstream parties on the current German political scene reacted distinctly unenthusiastically to that suggestion from head of Die Linke. The deputy chairman of the governing coalition’s Bundestag faction, Thomas Strobl, for instance: “In the 65 years since this German republic was established, this clause has given us stability and predictability.”

The German President, Joachim Gauck, however, has indicated a willingness to see a debate on the point. What’s more, maybe “predictability” is not necessarily the characteristic you would most want to associate with any legislative body that is supposed to be accountable to the people through elections.

At bottom, though, we are left with a simple logical inconsistency. Could those five federal justices voting to abolish the EP’s 3% electoral hurdle please explain why that same calculus should not also apply to the Bundestag’s 5% hurdle? One suspects that the only answer they would be able to come up with is that the European Parliament is so much less important – has so much less real power – than the Bundestag that it is quite alright to maintain the former as a convenient hobby-horse for all of one’s best, and most idealistic, democratic intentions.

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Having A Laugh

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Prepare to have some of your most cherished illusions destroyed:

Tierisch komisch? Was das #Lachen der #Tiere wirklich bedeutet http://t.co/0dpFghzK

@rponline

RP ONLINE


“What the laughter of animals really means,” it says there. The smiles, too – like what we always see on dolphins, for example, and if you click through to the Rheinische Post article you are rewarded right there at the top with one smiling right at you and his (?) buddy not far behind.

The thing is: they’re not smiling at you; they always look that way, even when they are asleep, since as the author Jörg Zittlau explains, they “can’t do anything but grin, since their muscles don’t [really] enable any sophisticated mimicry.” Not even chimpanzees, when they seem to crack up over something, are really in a comic mood. Rather, Zittlau explains, it’s more likely that they’re agitated, even stressed-out. Yes, chimpanzees (unlike most animals) are capable of laughter, but it’s not what you would expect. As Zittlau quotes psychologist Robert Provine, “The chimpanzee’s laughter is more a gutteral grunt.”

What about Fido – you know that he laughs, you’ve heard him yourself, right? Well, yes and no: again, dogs do seem capable of laughter, but not in the form you would expect. “It sounds to an untrained human ear merely like the usual dog-panting,” says this time one Patricia Simonet from Sierra Nevada College, and it usually occurs – as you would expect – when the dog is at play.

Oh, and “laughing” hyenas? Sorry: that “laughing” is more often an expression of frustration, when it is not being used (by means of its specific frequency and tone) to confirm the animal’s place in the pack pecking-order.

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