Referendum on discrimination

The Swiss voted to ban discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, and public displays of homophobia.  

The Swiss have an interesting system that enables almost any issue to be brought to a national vote.  Only 50,000 signatures are needed to create a referendum, including those that result in a constitutional amendment.  I’d recently seen a few signs around the city that appeared to be in support of (or in opposition to) some referendum or another, but few of the signs included enough context for me to discern the topic of the referendum. (There is no English-language newspaper in Switzerland, so I remain in the dark about local issues.)  I heard there was a referendum about a new road/rail tunnel to be built.  As it turns out, there was a far more interesting referendum underway.

Yesterday, the Swiss voted to ban discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, and public displays of homophobia.  From the New York Times story:

Swiss voters agreed on Sunday to penalize public homophobia, greenlighting an amendment to an antidiscrimination law that had not provided protection for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. …

Voters were asked in a referendum whether they wanted to extend Switzerland’s racism statutes to sexual orientation, and on Sunday 63.1 percent voted in favor of it. The extension was backed by the government and most of Switzerland’s political parties. …

In 2018, lawmakers voted to add sexual orientation to an existing law that penalized discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion. Under the amended law, homophobic comments made in public would be punishable with up to three years in prison. …

Yet, opponents argued that such an extension was counter to freedom of expression, and that they should be able to express their views on homosexuality publicly. They gathered the 50,000 signatures necessary to force a national referendum.

Kronberg

A beautiful hike to Kronberg in the Appenzell region, under blue skies and with spring-like conditions.

Today I went hiking with a colleague from the University of St. Gallen, about an hour to the east of Zürich.  Our goal was the summit of Kronberg, 1662m, with fabulous views of Mount Säntis and the Alpstein region to the south, and deep into the Swiss Alps to the west and the Austrian Alps to the east, as well as to the grand expanse of Lake Constance to the northeast.  Read on and check out the gallery.

Someone has stomped out a Heart in the snow.

 

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Northern Lights in Sweden

A weekend above the Arctic Circle in an effort to photograph the Northern Lights.

I recall a warm summer evening, about forty years ago, when I reclined on the rocky shore of Lake Champlain to watch a distant aurora borealis dance across the stars of the far northern sky.  Ever since then I’ve held a quiet fascination with this phenomenon, determined to see the northern lights “for real” some day.  I’ve longed to visit the Arctic, in part so I might see the northern lights.  This weekend – capping a week of academic travel in Finland and Sweden – was my first opportunity to travel above the Arctic Circle.  I flew to a tiny village in the far northern tip of Sweden – so close it was practically in Norway – and spent two nights standing in the snow, watching the sky above Abisko National Park.  Did I see the aurora?  yes!  Was I satisfied?  no; if anything, I want to return to see more!  From the other people I met there, it is clear that Abisko has that affect on many people.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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A reindeer seen beside the road in Abisko.

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Hunting grouse in Finland

A day of skiing and grouse hunting, outside Oulu Finland.

Yesterday I visited the University of Oulu to give a talk about my research and to engage in some collaborative discussions with faculty in computer science.  (Impressive and fascinating work underway there!)   Timo, the professor hosting my visit, grew up in the fields and forests of northern Finland; he offered to take me out today for a day of skiing in a nature reserve an hour east of Oulu.  As he noted, this week was a special opportunity – the first time since 1981 that the wildlife-management folks were opening a winter season for hunting European Grouse… and for just 10 days.  Timo is an accomplished hunter and fisherman, as was clear from the many stuffed grouse and the fishing awards in his den at home.  This mid-week opportunity was too good for him to pass up, and I was delighted to join.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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Flumserberg

Skiing at Flumserberg on a sunny day after an overnight snowfall.

The forecast promised the snow flurries would end around noon, and the clouds would clear to partly-sunny skies for the afternoon. That was good enough for Andy and me! We hopped on a late-morning train along the shores of beautiful lakes Zurichsee and Wallensee, and jumped off in Unterterzen.  We walked across the street and climbed on the gondola, which whisked us steeply uphill past verdant green pastures and snug little cottages until the trees were dusted with last night’s snowfall.  We arrived at the tiny village of Tannenboden, at the base of the Flumerserberg ski area, right at noon. After renting ski gear in a local shop, we were ready to go… just as the clouds parted and the sun broke through, illuminating the jagged mountain peaks across the valley. Spectacular! and it would only get better.   Read on, and check out the gallery.

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Rheinfall and Schaffhausen

A daytrip to see the Rheinfall and wander the old town of Schaffhausen.

For our final day of free Swiss rail travel, we decided to stay close to home.  We headed northeast, to a curious finger of Switzerland on the north side of  the Rhine River – which otherwise forms the border with Germany. The train stops directly at the Rheinfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, where there are some impressive viewing platforms and an historic castle now converted into a restaurant. The waterfall was beautiful, though the flow was at an annual low – it being winter, and there being no rain for the past week.  The low-angle sun (1:30pm, a few weeks after winter solstice) painted a pretty rainbow on the mist of the falls (a “mistbow”?).  Read on, and check out the Rheinfall gallery and Schaffhausen gallery.

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Fribourg

A daytrip to Fribourg, on the boundary between Francophone and Germanophone regions of Switzerland.

Day #3 of our efforts to maximize the Swiss GA card, and we pick a city known for being smack on the boundary between Francophone Switzerland and Germanophone Switzerland. Fribourg straddles the small Sarine river where it passes through a deep gorge.   Traditionally, the villagers on the west side of the river speak French, and the villagers on the right side speak German.  The modern city uses both languages interchangeably, though French is dominant; each street sign shows the street name in each language.  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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