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Haiku for a drowned oBike

Tuesday, 5 December, 2017 0 Comments

The oBike company from Singapore is not feeling the spirit of Christmas in Europe this Advent. Is it playing fast and loose with users’ data? Some allege that it is. Is it creating an urban blight of cheap bicycles? The evidence is mounting. In some cities, citizens are taking matters into their own hands by damaging or discarding the bikes. The semi-submerged example in our photo was seen in Munich’s Olympiapark.

oBike rage rising
Olympian grave beckons
Splash! Stillness surrounds.

oBike

Note: The haiku follows a strict form: three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. That means the first line must have five syllables, the second line seven syllables and the last line must have five syllables. A haiku does not have to rhyme or follow a certain rhythm as long as it adheres to the 17-syllable count.


Here today: Stuttgart

Saturday, 14 October, 2017 0 Comments

The name Stuttgart dates from a time when the site of what would become the city was a place for breeding cavalry horses (“stud yard”). Hence the equine logo of the city. And that same prancing horse graces the Porsche logo. That’s because Porsche’s headquarters are in Stuttgart, along with those of Mercedes Benz, Bosch and Mahle plus lots of other companies, large and small, that keep the “Motor City” humming.

“Stuttgart from Above” was created by videographer Mario Hegewald. The music is Neon Light by Thomas McNeice and Robin Thomson.


TerraE borrows Gigafactory from Tesla

Friday, 4 August, 2017 0 Comments

Fact: The car industry provides jobs for 828,000 people in Germany. This accounts for a hefty 14 percent of the country’s manufacturing industry workforce.

There’s no way Berlin will allow #Dieselgate to sink the ship, but there is an increasing awareness that things have to change if they are to remain the same, for the auto industry, that is. As usual, the future is on the other side of the Atlantic and it has a name: Gigafactory.

The Tesla Gigafactory is a lithium-ion battery production facility in Nevada and its full capacity would enable the company to produce the power packs for 1,500,000 e-cars a year. In a subtle change of terminology, Tesla now refers to what was called the Gigafactory as Gigafactory 1 and Elon Musk has taken to describing the SolarCity Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York, as Gigafactory 2. Next up is Tesla Gigafactory Europe, a combined electric battery manufacturing facility and automobile factory. Locations said to be under consideration are in the Czech Republic around Prague, with a nearby 330 kilotonne lithium deposit, and Portugal, with Europe’s biggest lithium reserves and one of the world’s biggest solar centres.

With Tesla knocking on Europe’s door, German car makers need to get a move on. Enter Terra E. The Frankfurt-based holding company announced yesterday that it has “composed 17 major companies and research institutions to a consortium to handle planning for building large-scale lithium ion battery cell manufacturing in Germany.” In a cheeky act of imitation, it’s calling the proposed facility a “Gigafactory”. What did Picasso allegedly say about great artists and copying?

Terra E will choose one of five candidate sites next month to build the 34 gigawatt-hour battery factory. The plan is to break ground in the fourth quarter of 2019 and reach full capacity in 2028.

So, despite the current crisis, the German car industry is gearing up for the next stage in the mobility upheaval. Millions of plug-in cars are expected to roll off production lines in Munich and Stuttgart early next decade and Berlin believes it has an ace up its sleeve in the race to dominate the roads: Industrie 4.0. The national strategy for the Fourth Industrial revolution could give Germany an edge in manufacturing robotics and automated production. If that were to happen, #Dieselgate would be remembered, if at all, as just one more word with a hashtag and a popular suffix.

Picasso car and bird


The Deutschmark and the Diesel

Thursday, 3 August, 2017 0 Comments

Until it was replaced by the euro in 2002, the D-Mark (Deutsche Mark) was one of the world’s most stable currencies. In its short but eventful 54-year history, it was the official currency of West Germany and later the unified Germany. And then it was gone.

Is this the destiny of diesel? German. Stable. Gone.

Deutsche Mark Sure, history will note that Rudolf Diesel’s invention had a longer run. He filed a patent for an “internal-combustion engine” in 1895 in the US but it’s a safe bet that it is headed for the same fate as the D-Mark. Going, going…

Along with diesel fumes, fear was in the air yesterday in Berlin when German car executives and political leaders met to rescue Rudolf Diesel’s legacy. Their over-hyped meeting — dramatically described as a “diesel summit” — resulted in a plan to update the software in five million cars to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, the diesel by-product most harmful to human health. But it’s too little, too late. There’s a crisis of confidence in Germany’s most important industry. Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW are facing growing public anger at home and abroad for downplaying the health effects of diesel fumes and, in some cases, misleading customers about how much nitrogen oxides their cars produce.

The impact of all this on Germany cannot be overstated because vehicles are its single most important export product. They are also the most visible symbol of German engineering. Those arrays of BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches are a source of national pride and (like the D-Mark once) a vital part of post-war German self-image. News that Volkswagen agreed to pay more than $22 billion in the United States in fines after admitting that it had programmed diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests rattled the country, and recent reports that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler may have secretly agreed to cut corners on emissions hardware has created a feeling of betrayal.

France and Britain want to end the sale of diesel cars. Athens and Madrid are banning them entirely, but Germany is hanging on for dear life to its preferred fuel. It’s a risky strategy because hansom cab drivers didn’t see the automobile coming and the makers of the internal combustion engine might not hear the approaching electric car.

Tomorrow, here: Tesla moves up a gear.


But, but, but… batteries

Tuesday, 1 August, 2017 0 Comments

Norway has put down a marker. It will phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2025. France is giving the industry a bit more leeway, but it will ban the sale of combustion engines from 2040. In the same year, Britain will forbid new petrol and diesel cars.

EV So, what sort of vehicles will people use when combustion engines are outlawed? EVs (electric vehicles), of course. Whoa! Not so fast, say the combustion-engine defenders. They claim that the ecological footprint of e-cars is calamitous. One can drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee or a Mercedes SUV-class for years before doing as much damage to the environment as a Tesla, they claim. How come? Four years ago, in an exhaustive 6,500-word article on the financial website Seeking Alpha, analyst Nathan Weiss made a case that the Tesla Model S has higher effective emissions than most large SUVs of both the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and smog-producing pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

And then there’s the super-heavy batteries used in electric vehicles.

If the environmental argument doesn’t do it for you, the car industry, of all industries, will try ethics. The ethics of batteries, that is. The battery business uses 42 percent of global cobalt production, after all. And where does cobalt come from? Why, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation torn by civil war and hobbled by corruption. And if that’s not an argument against cobalt, get this: the ore is often dug out by child labourers. Rounding out the debate are the poisons and dangerous particles released as a side effect of batteries, which have to be disposed of. Toxic waste, in other words.

The problem with the argument for the internal combustion engine is that it doesn’t allow for momentum and innovation. Today’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast:

“The EV revolution is going to hit the car market even harder and faster than BNEF predicted a year ago. EVs are on track to accelerate to 54% of new car sales by 2040. Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29.”

Thursday, here: The results of tomorrow’s Diesel Summit in Berlin.


Dieselgate

Monday, 31 July, 2017 0 Comments

Naturally, there’s a Wikipedia page listing scandals with the “-gate” suffix. Heard of Porngate? “Three members of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in India resign from their offices after accusations that they watched porn during government proceedings.” And what about Valijagate? “Venezuelan-American entrepreneur Guido Antonini Wilson arrived in Argentina on a private flight hired by Argentine and Venezuelan state officials carrying US$800,000 in cash, which he failed to declare.”

Then there’s Dieselgate (or Emissionsgate):

“International Council on Clean Transportation and West Virginia University caught Volkwagen cheating on emissions tests on about 11 million diesel cars by programming them to enable emissions controls during testing, but not control NOx pollution during real world driving.”

The suffix has spread so widely in two years that no one raised an eyebrow last week when Xinhua, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, headlined a story: “Strong Volkswagen Q2 profit despite ‘dieselgate’ cartel scandals.” Along with “dieselgate”, you will have noticed the word “cartel” there. Until recently, that term was more associated with Colombia than Germany. The Cali Cartel once controlled more than 90 percent of the world’s cocaine market. Its founders were the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, Gilberto and Miguel, who broke away from Pablo Escobar and his partners, who ran the Medellín Cartel. When the car manufacturers in Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Munich are being seen as shady operators running a racket designed to harm society along Colombian lines one begins to grasp how low their stars have fallen.

Tomorrow: The real enemy is Tesla, says the cartel.

Narcos


The smug face of Left-wing nihilism

Saturday, 8 July, 2017 1 Comment

The thug here caught snapping a selfie during last night’s so-called “anti-capitalism” riot in Hamburg is using an iPhone 7 Plus, which costs a cool €899. Priceless!

Hamburg thug

Described by the liberal press as “activists”, these spoiled brats and ruffians spent the night looting shops run by hard-working locals, immigrants and families who are trying to make decent living. What is truly appalling, however, is that the gangsters were encouraged by the likes of the leftist (!) millionaire (!) German publisher Jakob Augstein who, on Thursday night, tweeted: “The price has to be pushed so high that no one will want to organize such a conference. G20 like the Olympics is for dictatorships”

The looting, the burning, the injured police officers are a high price to pay for the satisfaction of well-fed smoked-salmon socialists.


Trump week

Monday, 16 January, 2017 0 Comments

And it kicks off “mit einem Paukenschlag” (spectacularly), as our German friends say. President-elect Trump tells Bild, well, the truth. “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” Ouch!

He emphasized that he is going to be a tough trans-Atlantic partner, threatening to slap a 35% import tax on BMW cars if the Munich-based company sticks with its plan to build a factory in Mexico. He also blamed the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to welcome refugees from the Middle East and Africa, for endangering the stability of Europe. Snippet:

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.

People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”

Obama is history and his legacy is, in a word, Trump.

Bild Trump


Mrs Merkel and her Humpty Dumpty great fall

Saturday, 3 September, 2016 1 Comment

According to the polls, the anti-establishment Alternative für Deutschland party has overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party in the run-up to tomorrow’s state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. If the prediction becomes reality, it would represent a massive shock and setback for Merkel in her home state.

Why this now? Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan noted that Merkel, without consulting the people, opened up Germany to 800,000 migrants from the Middle East last year. In the end, more than a million arrived, and 300,000 are expected this year. Those who weren’t consulted are now left to deal with the consequences: Social unease, political division, increased crime, fear of terror, fear of burqas, sexual assaults by migrants and numerous other bits of nastiness that Merkel and her clique remain insulated from. As Noonan writes:

But there was a fundamental problem with the decision that you can see rippling now throughout the West. Ms. Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

Nothing in their lives will get worse. The challenge of integrating different cultures, negotiating daily tensions, dealing with crime and extremism and fearfulness on the street — that was put on those with comparatively little, whom I’ve called the unprotected. They were left to struggle, not gradually and over the years but suddenly and in an air of ongoing crisis that shows no signs of ending — because nobody cares about them enough to stop it.

Falling off the wall The powerful show no particular sign of worrying about any of this. When the working and middle class pushed back in shocked indignation, the people on top called them “xenophobic,” “narrow-minded,” “racist.” The detached, who made the decisions and bore none of the costs, got to be called “humanist,” “compassionate,” and “hero of human rights.”

Merkel is falling in the polls, as Germans realize what she’s done to them. And around the world we see the rise of Trump-like populist campaigns, appealing to citizens who feel that their rulers despise them. If the rulers feel neither loyalty nor empathy toward the ruled, the ruled can be expected to return the favor. The results, unless the rulers change their ways in a hurry, are unlikely to be pretty.

When the people of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern go to the polls, Chancellor Merkel will be rubbing shoulders with the global elite at the G20 Summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Local concerns appear trivial from such a great distance and such a great height, but Humpty Dumpty did take a great fall, and neither all the king’s horses nor all the king’s men, nor a media and cultural apparatus could pick up the pieces again.


The triumph of Usain Bolt foreseen

Friday, 19 August, 2016 0 Comments

American artist Jacob Lawrence was one of a number of illustrators invited to design posters for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He created this image to celebrate the involvement of black athletes in the Olympics, as track and field is an area in which they have excelled. This had a particular historical significance for Lawrence because Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Hitler had planned to demonstrate the superiority of German “Aryan” athletes.

Munich Olympics poster


From Nice to Munich, humanity will prevail

Saturday, 23 July, 2016 0 Comments

The French filmmaker and photographer Fabien Ecochard made this “Hommage à tous les Niçois. Parce que Nice est et restera toujours Nissa la Bella.” Despite the Bastille Day terror on the Promenade des Anglais, “Nice is and will remain Nissa la Bella,” he says.

In the third attack on civilians in Europe in eight days, an 18-year-old German-Iranian killed nine people and wounded a further 21 at a shopping center in Munich last night before shooting himself. As in Nice, the victims were killed randomly, cruelly.

But like Nice, Munich will recover from this horror. Humanity will prevail.