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Apparently I have been feeding the little bird too much. It has become quite plump.
“Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – we could read on many Facebook and Twitter profiles after the attack on the French satirical newspaper. That was cheap and maybe a bit presumptuous, even though it was of course intended as a show of support.
But three words on Twitter are not enough for the surviving cartoonists and writers to carry on producing the paper. I don’t stop at empty words, instead I actually buy Charlie Hebdo, even if the price of 29 Romanian Lei = 6,50 Euro is more than twice the cover price in France.
The pen may be mightier than the sword in the long term, but in the meantime those of us who have swords would do well to protect our pen-wielding comrades. In societies where the state has a monopoly on the use of force, this task must also be borne by the state. This doesn’t mean that every journalist or artist should have a bodyguard at their side, but it would be nice if our politicians would at least refrain from committing the stupidities that they demonstrated in the weeks after the attack:
- In Paris the representatives of free European democracies marched arm in arm with emissaries of states that persecute, imprison, torture and execute journalists and artists. Over dinner, there were probably negotiations about sales of more tanks or warships to dictatorships.
- The coffins of those murdered were not yet in the ground, when the call for “precautionary data retention” was heard again. This wouldn’t necessarily be of any use (France had such a law in place), but it would be too bad if twelve people had died for nothing.
- The party who hadn’t understood anything was the CSU, one of the governing parties in Germany. The day after the attack, they demanded that blasphemy be punished more severely in the future. This “Christian social” party thus adopted demands by Al-Qaida and ISIS. I have never understood why the belief in something which doesn’t exist, but which is allegedly as almighty as it is benevolent and forgiving, must be protected by criminal law. Under any concept of God that I know of, this doesn’t make sense.
- Pope Francis, who until then had positively surprised even many atheists, showed his true face as the head of an illiberal theocracy by expressing understanding for the killers: “If someone provoked me, I would punch him as well.” Maybe that will earn him a Nobel Peace Prize.
It must be pointed out that Charlie Hebdo is not an “anti-Islamist” newspaper as has been wrongfully reported so many times. The satirical magazine pokes fun at everything and everybody, from current and former French presidents to actors, the Front National, all possible religions, the IMF, the military, corporations, other journalists and even themselves.
At times the discussion seemed to be dominated by the most this-skinned cry-baby that could be found. Let’s look for example at the cover of the magazine which was published the week after the attack, depicting a weeping Prophet Mohammed holding up a “Je suis Charlie” sign under the headline “Everything is forgiven”.
It is mighty impressive that a newspaper could be put together at all after such a bloodbath. (Most of us would take a few days off even if only the parrot or the hamster had died.) And then the cover hits exactly the right tone: Mourning and reconciliation.
Still, people around the world protested against the cover which they alleged to be offensive, insulting and hurtful. What is insulting about a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed which shows compassion and humanity? What image of the Prophet and of religion lies behind such protests? It definitely shows a total lack of understanding of the newspaper, its cartoons or of art or freedom of the press in general.
I was even more surprised by the many “Je suis Mohamed” posts which then sprung up suddenly (mainly on my Muslim friends’ profiles). To present oneself as the Prophet and the son of God (or am I mixing up some of the religions which all copied from each other?) looks to me like the ultimate level of blasphemy.
This is only one example which shows that “offensiveness” is no useful guideline for limiting any kind of expressive freedoms. All day long I see things which I find “offensive”: more than half of what is on TV, the display in a butchery shop, foozled grammar, carnival, contempt of logic, baby photos on the internet, some of the comments on this blog, and so on. I can get worked up about these things as much as I want, but never would I even think of banning any of them.
It seems a banality, but apparently I have to remind some people that nobody is forced to buy, read or laugh at Charlie Hebdo.
Thanks for asking about the little bird. It is doing great, not least due to my tender care.
This was on day 2, already looking a bit more like a bird than it did before:
I have been feeding them seeds and put up a bowl of water. The bird family appreciates both very much. I refresh it only once every day, to disturb them as little as possible. Over the time, I have noticed that the pigeon realizes that I pose no danger and that she has become far less shy. I wonder how my support will shape the little bird’s opinion of humans. It might be hard for it to reconcile conventional bird teaching with his positive experience on my balcony.
This last photo shows day 5 in the life of the chick:
If I ever study biology or zoology, I should get academic credit for this.
I am working at my desk, angry about another day having almost passed with less than half of my to-do list completed, when I spot something glaring through the window.
What is this?
A fire in a neighbor’s apartment? A small nuclear weapons test in someone’s kitchen?
No. It’s a reflection, I notice. A reflection of the sunset. I get up and rush to my bedroom at the other end of my apartment and marvel at this scene:
You may by now have noticed that I regularly put up sunset photos taken in Targu Mures. I don’t know what is the matter with this town, but I have never seen so many spectacular sunsets. Here, the sun puts on a huge show almost every night. I am wondering if it has something to do with the threshold-exceeding amounts of ammonia emitted by the Azomures chemical plant. We die a bit earlier than in the rest of the country, but at least we get to enjoy better sunsets until then. It’s all a matter of priorities.
I had gathered from the map of the course that the half marathon in Brașov (Romania) would be a bit mountainous. It actually looked more like an alpine hiking map. The difference in altitude to be overcome was indicated as 650 meters (= 2,130 feet).
Having arrived in Brașov the evening before, I spotted the mountain overlooking the town which is adorned by the Hollywood-like letters “BRASOV” (kitschy, but better than the “STALIN” which was displayed here in the 1950s). Terrified, I noticed that the mountain is not only high, but above all rather steep. I wouldn’t be able to set a personal record in this race. Snow is everywhere.
The next morning, an ice-cold wind is blowing across Union Square, making some of the athletes seek cover in nearby Saint Nicholas Church until the race will start at 12 o’clock. This is too much blasphemy even for me as a hardcore atheist. Some of the runners are wearing ski masks, hats, gloves and scarves. Well, at least I have a hoodie. I am not the only one to rub his hands in order to keep myself warm. The number plate which every participant must wear, includes the note: “In case of an accident, please call the mountain rescue.”
The starting signal is a salvation. Finally the body can get moving, the blood flows faster and warms the half-frozen limbs. At a quick pace, we move through the narrow alleys of the Old Town and reach a continuously ascending hiking trail after 2 km. Beautiful forest scenery with deep valleys. It begins to snow. Thick flakes fly into my face and soon cover the ground. The first runners turn into walkers, but I am still fit.
But soon the path becomes so narrow that I cannot overtake anymore. With my long steps, I walk faster than others run.
Then comes the ice. The steep path between the trees is as smooth as a mirror. Now, speed is no longer the relevant factor, it’s only about not breaking any bones. Uphill, I hold on to trees and branches. Downhill, I slide crouched down or with my butt directly on the ice. Again and again I slide down sideways, coming to a halt after a few meters in the snow. The more professional of the runners pull metal studs over their shoes.
On the ice, I move so carefully that I feel more on a wintery walk than a half marathon. Every 5 km there are drinks and food, with quite a range of choice actually: apples, bananas, chocolate, cheese, lemons. It’s tempting to hang around for a few minutes at the bar in the forest.
The steep way back into town turned out to be much worse: instead of snow and ice, it is mud and sludge which ensures one slip after the other. Soon, my shoes, my hoodie, my pants and my hands are full of dirt. (I have since twice tried to clean my pants, to no avail.)
Some runners precipitate themselves down the slope at breakneck speed, as if every second counts. At that point, I already didn’t bother anymore about time or speed. The course is ideal for a walk with beautiful views over Brașov, but it is of limited suitability for running, at least on that day.
Two and a half hours later I am sprinting through the finish line, not exhausted in the least. I still have enough energy to continue running to a friend’s apartment for a few more kilometers.
For a runner, it is unsatisfying if the course doesn’t permit the speed which fitness would allow. Although it is intended to be more challenging, for me the challenge is actually lacking in such races. But then it’s even more depressing to discover later that the best runners completed the course in half the time it took me. I have no idea how one can run the same speed on icy and muddy mountain slopes as on dry forest ground.
My next half marathons will be in Budapest in Hungary on 19 April, in Târgu Mureș in Romania on 24 May and in Tusnad in Romania on 6 June. The latter two will be quite mountainous as well, but that alone doesn’t bother me (after all I ran in Jerusalem in March), I just hope that it won’t be the rainy season then. After this experience, I definitely don’t need to take part in races like “Tough Mudder”. After all, I am not a child who jumps into any puddle that you put in front of it.
The sound of fighter jets, war planes and bombers causes fear and terror in some people, but delight in me. When the supersonic planes roar in the distance, I drop everything and turn my excited face toward the sky, admiring both the engineering masterpiece and the skills of the aviators.
Having grown up in West Germany in the 1980s, I could observe fighter jets and bombers of the US and the German Air Force almost every week. As a child of pacifist parents, I did however have to hide my excitement. Instead, on the occasion of each flyover of the defenders of our freedom, I had to listen to explanations on how much food or medicine could be purchased with the defense budget. (In our basement, I assembled a model of an Apache attack helicopter nonetheless.) When I was old enough to vigorously voice my own opinion, the Cold War was over and the skies had become empty, silent and boring.
It was in Romania one week ago that I heard the well-known sound once again. I was at the train station in Razboieni and just about to get on the train to Brașov, which is why I couldn’t hang around to spot the planes that would follow the sound.
Only from the train did I see them: some A-10 Thunderbolts, also called “Warthogs”. My favorite plane! Its purpose is to fight tanks and other ground targets. It flies low and majestically slow, also comparatively silently, yet it is extremely agile. Watching the maneuvers of this plane is more enjoyable than watching cats or babies play.
From the train I could take a few photos of the Thunderbolts as they were gliding across the hills of Transylvania:
These were some of the 12 Thunderbolts which the US Air Force has deployed to Romania. Taking the train to Cluj-Napoca, you pass by the Air Force base at Câmpia Turzii and you can get a glimpse of the formidable arsenal.
This deployment is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, with which western NATO countries (want to) demonstrate to their Eastern European partners that the latter could count on the support of the former if Russia’s thirst for expansion won’t stop in Ukraine. Russia on the other hand called the deployment a “confrontational act close to the Russian border”, which makes me wonder what kind of map the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman consulted. Romania doesn’t have a border with Russia.
Because it’s so beautiful, here is a video of the maneuverability of the A-10: