The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'switzerland'
The latest cottage industry in Switzerland is guinea pig rental. Switzerland has very strict animal welfare laws, under which it is an offence to keep animals described as social species, which include guinea pigs, without companions. Which means that law-abiding Swiss guinea-pig owners were faced with a legal dilemma once one of their pets passed away:
Without her rent-a-guinea pig service, the owner would have to purchase a new, probably younger guinea pig as a companion to the ageing survivor, whose eventual death would force the purchase of yet another guinea pig, locking the owner into an endless cycle of guinea pig purchases in order to adhere to Swiss law -- even though he or she may only ever have wanted one guinea pig in the first place.
She takes 50 Swiss francs (€41) for a castrated male and 60 francs for a female, "as a deposit," Küng explains. In effect, she sells the animals but pays back half the purchase price when they are returned. The job of the leased rodents is to cheer up companions in their twilight years.
Europe's greatest linguistic curiosity is arguably the Swiss village of Bivio (which, in Italian, means "crossroads"), whose 200 or so inhabitants juggle several languages and dialects, depending on context, and yet somehow manage to get along:
A quarter speak the official language, Italian, one fifth speak Romansch, while the majority speak some variety of German. Amazingly, they all seem to understand one another. At the grocer's, everyone speaks their mother tongue, and everyone gets the right change.
They're well-trained. At the kindergarten, they speak Italian on Tuesday and Surmiran, a Romansch dialect, on Thursday. The rest of the week, the kids alternate between the two, but in the playground, the German dialect Bündnerdeutsch rules. On Sundays, they may attend the Catholic church, where the priest preaches in Schwyzerdütsch, or the Protestant one, where High German is the order of the day.Bivio's days as a curiosity may be numbered, though; Swiss German is becoming increasingly dominant, and the primary school will start teaching English in 2012.
Let it not be said that the far right are not a diverse bunch. While in Australia, Christian authoritarians flirt with Islamic-style prohibitions on female nudity, in Denmark, the anti-immigrant People's Party wants to show all immigrants videos of topless beaches, to weed out those unsuitable for Denmark's liberal culture:
A documentary film on Denmark that is shown to immigrants as part of the test for entry should include topless bathers, said Peter Skaarup, the party's foreign affairs spokesman. "If you're coming from a strict, religious society that might make you stop and think: 'Oh no,'" he told the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. "Topless bathing probably isn't a common sight on Pakistani beaches. I honestly believe "Meanwhile, an anti-immigrant party in Switzerland has launched an online campaign featuring an image of naked, distinctly Aryan-looking young women standing in Lake Zürich, contrasted with an image of women in Islamic headscarves in filthy water. Stay classy, SVP.
Why the right in Australia and the right in Europe take different sides in a hypothetical Islamism-vs.-liberalism argument is an interesting question.
Child-rapist and film director Roman Polanski is now a free man, after Switzerland refused to extradite him to the US. The decision, which cannot be appealed, is said to have been made due to the US failing to provide the Swiss government with confidential testimony, though, according to the Justice Ministry, "national interests were taken into consideration".
It's doubtful whether Polanski, 76, will live long enough to make the mistake of going to a country where he might face anything resembling justice, so it's pretty fair to say that he has gotten away with it. And, with this decision, other predators elsewhere are now emboldened and their victims cowered, knowing that justice is all that more unlikely.
Recently, the Swiss National Bank held a competition to redesign the Swiss Franc banknotes, and got some very handsome submissions:
Cinematic genius and convicted child-rapist Roman Polanski has been detained in Switzerland on the grounds of his outstanding US arrest warrant for rape, when he went to the Zurich film festival to pick up a lifetime achievement award. Switzerland has an extradition treaty with the US. Anyway, it appears to be over for him; unless he manages to somehow get off this hook, he will now most probably die in a US prison.
For those feeling sorry for Mr. Polanski and hoping that this can be resolved quickly without this great man seeing the inside of a US prison, I refer you to a transcript of his victim's testimony (obviously NSFW). Be warned: it is uncomfortable reading.
In a statement released by the film festival, organizers said that they were recognizing Mr. bin Laden for his "body of work," referring to the chilling terror tapes that the al-Qaeda kingpin has released over the past ten years.Meanwhile, notes from Associated Press's reporters theorise that the Swiss authorities' sudden decision to arrest Polanski has something to do with US pressure over the UBS bank.
The Swiss railway has had to issue workers with yellow reflective vests after Dutch football fans mistook them for fellow supporters when they wore their standard orange ones.
Two years ago, I caught a sleeper train from Paris to Zurich. Not intentionally, mind you, but entirely by chance.
I had originally intended to travel from Paris to Florence by sleeper train, departing from the Gare de Bercy a whisker after 7pm, and to this effect, had booked a seat on the Eurostar arriving at the Gare du Nord just before 5:30pm. This, in theory, would have given me ample time to make my leisurely way through the Paris Métro, possibly grabbing a bite to eat, before boarding my train. In reality, it turned out that the Channel Tunnel wasn't feeling well that afternoon, and the Eurostar spent some 80 minutes waiting in the Kentish countryside, consequently arriving in Paris just before 7. A mad dash in a taxi with a driver who spoke no English ("Parlez-vous Anglais?", I enquired on entering the cab; the driver reply, buttered with no small amount of self-satisfaction, was, "Parle Français.") resulted in my arriving at Gare de Bercy (a good 5km away) some ten minutes after the Florence train's departure.
Facing the prospect of spending a night in a hotel room, I inquired at the ticket office about subsequent trains. Luckily, there was a sleeper train to Zurich (or, more precisely, to Chur via Zurich), and thence I could catch a train to Milan the following morning, putting me on the way toward Florence, at the cost of only around £90 and some eight hours of time. This, however, turned out to be well worth it, as the scenery along the Zurich-Milan route was spectacular. The morning's train wound past silvery alpine lakes fringed with small, white houses and corkscrewed its way up mountains to St. Gotthard's Pass, before entering a tunnel. On the other side, everything was different: the climate, the architecture, even the language. We had left the German-speaking part of Switzerland and entered the Italian-speaking part, a somewhat sunnier, though still impeccably well-organised, place. The train headed south, then stopped for some time at the border as border guards boarded to check our passports. Then it proceeded southward, past Lake Como, and towards Milan. From Milan, I made my own way south.
I had been planning to take this journey again at some point, the next time actually breaking it in the Swiss Alps; getting off the train somewhere around, say, Arth-Goldau or so, and spending a day or two there, in alpine tranquility. Though, when I recently looked at seat61.com, I found that that is no longer possible, having fallen victim to the onward march of progress:
The convenient direct sleeper train from Paris to Landquart & Chur was sadly withdrawn with the opening of the TGV-Est high-speed line in June 2007I wonder how many other sleeper train services have disappeared over recent years, squeezed by the boorish onslaught of cheap flights on one hand and the march of high-speed rail on the other, and whether this is a one-way process, or whether there are any new overnight services being introduced as old ones are dropped. One would think that they could run some through the Channel Tunnel at night. (Perhaps if Deutsche Bahn get rights to run services through the tunnel from 2010, as they have applied to do, they will put some in. After all, Germany is considerably further from London than Paris or Brussels, and an overnight train from London to Berlin, the showpiece rail hub of central Europe, could be popular. And then there were the overnight services from the north of Britain to Paris that were mooted when the tunnel was being built and flights were relatively expensive.)
Details of how the NSA hacked cryptography machines from Swiss company Crypto AG, inserting an undetectable security hole which allowed them to read the traffic of users (including Iranian government orders to assassins and terrorists including the Lockerbie bombers):
On the day of his assassination and one day before his body was found with his throat slit, the Teheran headquarters of the Iranian Intelligence Service, the VEVAK, transmitted a coded message to Iranian diplomatic missions in London, Paris, Bonn and Geneva. "Is Bakhtiar dead?" the message asked.
"Different countries need different levels of security. The United States and other leading Western countries required completely secure communications. Such security would not be appropriate for the Third World countries that were Crypto's customers," Boris Hagelin explained to the baffled engineer. "We have to do it."
Juerg Spoerndli left Crypto AG in 1994. He helped design the machines in the late '70s. "I was ordered to change algorithms under mysterious circumstances" to weaker machines," says Spoerndli who concluded that NSA was ordering the design change through German intermediaries.
The ownership of Crypto AG has been to a company in Liechtenstein, and from there back to a trust company in Munich. Crypto AG has been described as the secret daughter of Siemens but many believe that the real owner is the German government.
As part of an ambitious plan to divert all cross-country freight onto the railways, the Swiss are digging a railway tunnel under the Alps. The tunnel, which (at 57 kilometres) will be the world's longest, will form part of a new, faster railway link between Zurich and Milan, and make crossing the Alps quicker and easier than it has ever been:
A key feature of the project, which is new to alpine transport, is the fact that the entire railway line will stay at the same altitude of 500 metres (1,650ft) above sea level.
This will allow trains using the line to reach speeds of 240km/h (149mph), reducing the travel time between Zurich and Milan from today's four hours to just two-and-a-half. That would make the journey faster than flying.
Whilst initially intended for freight, the service is expected to carry passenger trains; an underground railway station has been established one kilometer beneath the village of Sedrun, for use in the construction project, and there are plans to turn it into a passenger station, to be known as "Porta Alpina", or "gateway to the Alps":
Tourists will be able to arrive by train in the Alps in record time, and then be whisked up to fresh mountain air by way of the world's longest elevator.On one hand, travelling to the Alps by high-speed train, ascending in a lift and emerging in a tiny Alpine village does sound cool. On the other hand, I had the good fortune to travel from Zurich to Milan by the slow way—the train winding around the sides of silvery lakes, crossing bridges over valleys and corkscrewing its way up the Alps on the German-speaking part, going through a (relatively) short tunnel at St. Gotthard's Pass, and then coming back down on the Italian-speaking part, with its entirely different architecture and vegetation, and that was (as you can undoubtedly imagine) a magnificently scenic journey. A tunnel just wouldn't be the same.
I'm back in London now, having spent the past five days on the continent, catching the Eurostar to Paris, then travelling via Zürich to Tuscany, staying for a few days in the mediaeval hilltop town of Cetona, then back to Paris via Florence and back to London. Photos from my travels will gradually filter onto Flickr.
- The Eurostar train to Paris was delayed by 80 minutes; it seems that the tunnel wasn't feeling well or something, and the train had to wait outside whilst its handlers coaxed it into cooperating. Consequently, I missed my initial connection, the 19:06 sleeper to Florence, despite a white-knuckle taxi ride through the Parisian rush-hour traffic. The moral of this story: allow more than one hour and 40 minutes between the Eurostar and anything departing from Gare de Bercy.
- I did manage to get a bunk on a later sleeper to Zürich, and a connecting train to Milan. The Zürich train (a French SNCF service) was relatively empty, and even in second class, quite comfortable.
- The Swiss love their sans serif typefaces and clean design, and have some of the best-looking banknotes I have seen. They're about as colourful as Australian banknotes, only with more of a modernist European graphic-design feel.
- The journey through the Swiss Alps from Zürich to Milan is probably the most scenic railway journey I have been on; the train climbs into the alps, winding around hills and going through tunnels, passing vast, mirror-still lakes and small towns. Then it goes through a tunnel near St. Gotthard's Pass, and comes out in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, which has a completely different climate, geography, architecture and character, seeming rather Mediterranean. I have added Switzerland to the list of places to visit.
- Swiss trains are very clean and run like clockwork. Italian trains are generally of a high standard. The "EuroStar Italia" trains (which are similar to French TGVs or Virgin Pendolinos) are fast and come with an onboard magazine (in Italian) and radio channels in the seats (which didn't seem to be working), and the "InterCity" trains (expresses pulled by more conventional electric locomotives; virtually all railways in Europe are electric these days) are air conditioned and clean. First class on those costs slightly more than second-class and gives you larger-looking seats (though they have the same number of them in the compartments) and power points near the window seats. (The EuroStar to Paris also had power points (European ones, not British ones), though the returning one didn't.)
- The "Palatino" sleeper from Florence to Paris is quite popular, and consequently the compartment I was in was full. Fitting into a second-class sleeper compartment (which holds six) with baggage is a bit of a juggling act. Apparently first class sleepers are said to be much more comfortable.
- Most if not all of the native English speakers one meets whilst travelling on trains through Europe are Americans. I wonder why this is; perhaps it's because Britons associate trains with day-to-day drudgery and avoid them whilst on holidays, whereas Americans regard them as part of the European experience.
Your Humble Narrator is watching the Eurovision Song Contest. We're up to song 6 (Spain's Las Ketchup doing a number titled "Bloody Mary"; given that the chorus seems to go "Duty Free Duty Free Duty Free", I think it's about cheap booze).
The first few songs have been interesting enough. Moldova did a vaguely hip-hop-flavoured Latin-dance-pop number with choregoraphy that ventured across the line between raunchy and wrong. The Israeli entrant (by a black American member of some Black Hebrew sect or other) was a syrupy R&B ballad, partly in Hebrew, which may have been about world peace, Zionist nationalism or neither. The Swiss entry was 100% pure Eurofromage.
We're now on to the Maltese entry, a pumpin' disco number. Those are some serious eyebrows there. And now we've got some German banjo-pickin' country music, with a blonde singer and a Bert Newton lookalike wearing a cowboy hat. Yee-ha!
An interesting account of how investigators tracked al-Qaeda operatives via their Swiss mobile SIM cards. The terrorists were apparently sufficiently naïve to assume that the SIM cards (which could be purchased anonymously in Switzerland and used worldwide) guaranteed anonymity, and, whilst changing phones frequently for security reasons, to keep the same SIM card.
Switzerland's long-held fairy-tale image has taken a beating in recent years; first they cop some flack for running off with Holocaust survivors' life savings and killing third-world babies to maximise profits, and now a new film has presented their national icon, the flaxen-haired orphan Heidi, as a blue-haired punk who steals fruit and dodges fares. As expected, the traditionalists are up in arms. (via Lev)
Switzerland prepares to formally legalise marijuana, a substance which is rapidly gaining an aura of safe, middle-class respectability. (BBC News)