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Rhine River could fall below critical mark, risking industry

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Water levels on the Rhine River could reach a critically low point in the coming days, German officials said Wednesday, making it increasingly difficult to transport goods — including coal and gasoline — as drought and an energy crisis grip Europe.

Weeks of dry weather have turned several of Europe’s major waterways into trickles, posing a headache for German factories and power plants that rely on deliveries by ship and making an economic slowdown ever more likely. Transporting goods by inland waterways is more important in Germany than in many other Western European countries, according to Capital Economics.

“This is particularly the case for the Rhine, whose nautical bottleneck at Kaub has very low water levels but which remains navigable for ships with small drafts,” said Tim Alexandrin, a spokesman for Germany’s Transport Ministry.

Authorities predict that water levels at Kaub will dip below the mark of 40 centimeters (16 inches) early Friday and keep falling over the weekend. While this is still higher than the record low of 27 centimeters seen in October 2018, many large ships could struggle to safely pass the river at that spot, located roughly mid-way along the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz.

“The situation is quite dramatic, but not as dramatic yet as in 2018,” said Christian Lorenz, a spokesman for the German logistics company HGK.

Cargo ships travel on the Rhine River on August 10 in Koenigswinter near Bonn, Germany.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

From France and Italy, Europe is struggling with dry spells, shrinking waterways and heat waves that are becoming more severe and frequent because of climate change. Low water levels are another blow for industry in Germany, which is struggling with shrinking flows of natural gas that have sent prices surging.

Due to the lack of water, ships bringing salt down the Rhine River from Heilbronn to Cologne that would normally carry 2,200 metric tons (2,425 US tons) of cargo are only able to transport about 600 tons, he said.

“Of course, we hope that shipping won’t be halted, but we saw in 2018 that when water levels got very low the gas stations suddenly had no more fuel because ships couldn’t get through,” Lorenz said.

Authorities are taking steps to shift more goods traffic onto the rail network and, if necessary, give it priority, said Alexandrin, the Transport Ministry spokesman.

Those other options will be more expensive and take longer, with the higher cost making it impossible in some cases, said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist for Capital Economics.

The river transportation issues are not problematic for German industry as shrinking flows and rising prices for natural gas, he said, with Russia having reduced deliveries to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity. But the woes on the Rhine could still take a small bite out of economic growth if they last until December, add a bit to already-high inflation and lead industrial production to drop slightly, the economist said.

general view of low water level continues along the rhine river
Water levels in the Rhine River continue to dip.
Ying Tang/NurPhoto/ZUMAPRESS.com

But with Capital Economics already expecting flat economic growth in Germany in the third quarter and a contraction in the last three months of the year, “the low water level in the Rhine simply makes a recession even more likely,” Kenningham said.

HGK and other shipping companies are preparing for a “new normal” in which low water levels become more common as global warming makes droughts more severe, sapping water along the length of the Rhine from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

“There’s no denying climate change and the industry is adjusting to it,” said Lorenz.

All new ships being ordered by the company will be built with a view to making them suitable for low water levels on the Rhine, he said.

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82-year-old Alabama woman arrested for not paying $77 trash bill

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An 82-year-old Alabama woman was left in tears after being handcuffed, arrested and thrown in jail for failing to pay a $77.80 trash bill.

Martha Menefield told KTLA she initially thought two officers from the Valley Police Department were joking when they arrived at her home Nov. 27 and told her they were there to arrest her for failing to pay a garbage service bill covering the months of June, July and August.

“Don’t cry, Ms. Martha,” Menefield recalled one of the officers saying, while she again broke out in tears while describing the ordeal.

‘I’m just happy my grandkids weren’t here to see that,” the octogenarian said. “That would have upset them. I was so ashamed, and it’s been bothering me.”

Police Chief Mike Reynolds defended the arrest in a statement.
City of Fayetteville

Her misdemeanor arrest for “failure to pay solid waste fees” drew outrage on social media, along with offers to pick up the bill.

But Valley Police Chief Mike Reynolds on Tuesday posted a statement on Facebook defending the arrest, saying multiple attempts were made collect the debt and that Menefield has history of suspended service.

After she didn’t appear at a September court date for a citation, an arrest warrant for “Failure to Pay-Trash was issued,” he added.

Menefield said she never received a notice to appear in court about her trash fees.
Menefield said she never received a notice to appear in court about her trash fees.
Facebook/Lee Hedgepeth

Menefield said she never received any notice to appear in court. 

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After Half a Century, Prince Edward Island’s Musical Tradition Takes a Break

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Prince Edward Island’s best-known figure, Anne Shirley, is a fictional character. But that doesn’t deter tourists from around the world, and Japan in particular, from traveling to Cavendish to visit Green Gables, the farm that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel about the sassy orphan from the town of Avonlea, itself another fiction.

And since 1965, except during a pandemic-induced two-year break, most of those tourists have taken in performances of “Anne of Green Gables — The Musical” at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.

But now anyone planning to make the show part of a trek to pay homage to red-haired Anne will have to do some additional planning. After 57 years, the center has decided that the musical will be performed every second year rather than annually.

The play was the first production staged at the center, and the decision to break its long run was one of many things that emerged from pandemic reflection, Adam Brazier, the artistic director of performing arts at the Confederation Centre, told me.

It was a change that Mr. Brazier, whose family has a long history on the island, took on with some trepidation.

I suffer from being an absolute people pleaser, and this was a such a large systemic cultural change,” Mr. Brazier said. “The unfamiliar always breeds the uncertainty and fear. I have to acknowledge that absolutely exists.”

But in Mr. Brazier’s view, a biennial “Anne” will allow the theater, which currently offers just two shows each season, to “preserve the legacy” of “Anne” itself.

As he anticipated, there was some immediate backlash on the island, and off, when the change was announced.

In a letter published by Saltwire, an online collective of Atlantic Canada newspapers, Paul Smitz of Brookvale, Prince Edward Island, said the decision was “ridiculous” and called for the resignation of Mr. Brazier as well as that of the art center’s chief executive.

“It has huge implications on tourism,” Mr. Smitz wrote.

Kathy and Dino DelGaudio of Vero Beach, Fla., who own a seasonal house on the island, wrote to say that they had attended the production every summer, except during the pandemic-related shutdown of the border, for the past two decades. They too said they were dismayed.

“Anne represents the essence of P.E.I. to us and put P.E.I. on the global map,” the couple wrote. “Big mistake, folks.”

But one of the new projects Mr. Brazier has taken on is, well, more Anne. The theater will create a musical version of “Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables.”

During the 1930s, Loretta Shaw, a Canadian missionary, gave Ms. Muraoka a copy of Ms. Montgomery’s book, which Ms. Muraoka went on to translate, along with most of the Canadian author’s other works. Japan’s fascination with Anne, however, developed after 1953, when the translation, titled “Red-Haired Anne,” was included in Japan’s school curriculum.

(Michael B. Pass, a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa, has published a fascinating history and analysis of Japan’s relationship with Anne.)

Interest in the various Anne stories in Canada, of course, has largely been driven by television adaptations. The most recent, known simply as “Anne” when it was first aired by the CBC and then “Anne With an E” for a Netflix release, took a darker approach to the character’s story.

But it’s not just television. Catherine Hong wrote for The New York Times Book Review about the proliferation of book adaptations of the spunky redhead’s story. They include “Anne of Greenville” by Mariko Tamaki. Ms. Hong describes that book as “more a playful riff than a retelling — in which Anne is the half-Japanese, disco-loving, ‘deliriously queer’ adopted daughter of two moms.” She adds, “After the family moves to the conservative small town of Greenville, Anne encounters a scary nativist clique and a thorny love triangle involving two girls.”

[Read: Anne of Everywhere]

The musical production in Charlottetown was partly written by Don Harron, who is best remembered for his comedic performances as Charlie Farquharson, a grizzled Ontario philosopher-farmer. Mr. Brazier told me that the production had undergone many revisions and changes over the past half century.

In 1971, Clive Barnes, The Times’s longtime theater critic, gave a largely positive, if somewhat patronizing, review of a New York production of the musical.

“Simple, innocent and Canadian, this is the kind of show that will appeal most to the unsophisticated in heart — if they are still going to the theater these days,” he wrote.

With a cast of 26 actors and 14 musicians, Anne is a large and expensive production. But Mr. Brazier said that giving it a break every other year was not about saving money and that budgets for the theater had not been trimmed.

And Mr. Brazier said that the theater was committed to preserving what he called “a masterpiece of 1960s musical theater.”

He added: “We cherish this show and everything about it. I believe you can learn anything you need to learn about the musical theater from ‘Anne of Green Gables — The Musical.’”


  • A man already in custody in Manitoba has been charged with murdering three Indigenous women and a fourth unidentified woman.

  • In Opinion, Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Steven Guilbeault, the former climate activist who is now the federal minister of environment and climate change, on “First Person,” a Times podcast about how people have come to their opinions and what it means to live with them.

  • W.M. Akers has reviewed “Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk” by Buddy Levy. In 1913, the flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition became trapped in a frozen hell of arctic ice. Mr. Akers writes that the book is “is an ugly tale, very well told,” and says, “The only beauty is in the ice — and that is as cold as beauty can be.”

  • Canada has been eliminated from the World Cup. James Wagner writes about what’s next for the national team and declares that while its result at the tournament may be disappointing, “even reaching this far was an accomplishment.”

  • Borje Salming, a Hall of Fame defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who led the way for other European hockey players in the N.H.L., has died at the age of 71.

  • Bilal Baig, a queer, transfeminine Muslim artist from Toronto, has returned for a second season of “Sort Of,” a melancholy comedy loosely based on the performer’s life and experiences.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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Four Chinese tell why they’re protesting Xi: ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’

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All week, China has been rocked by protests against President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s extreme zero-COVID” policies, which have forced many to stay at home for months, possibly leading to the deaths of 10 people trapped in an apartment building fire on Nov. 24.

I asked friends in China — using encrypted apps that the Chinese surveillance state has declared illegal — to tell me why they are protesting the lockdowns. Here are four responses, minus the personal details that might get them arrested.

1.    “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”

“I am a software engineer from Beijing. The “zero-COVID” policy that has gone on for three years has devastated the economy and the company I work for is on the verge of collapse. I and other employees are lucky to receive one-third of our normal salary. We are all struggling to pay our bills and just to get through daily life.

The nationwide protests were sparked by this apartment building fire in Urumqi that killed 10 people, who were likely trapped due to COVID lockdown restrictions.
via REUTERS

My son is suffering, too. When he is allowed to go to school, he has to take a daily COVID test and wear a mask, which harms his health and social development. During lockdowns he is forced to stay at home and take online classes, but even then the school demands daily COVID tests. My son is spending his childhood living in fear. 

My family loves to travel. Before “zero-COVID” we would go on outings almost every weekend, camping in the picturesque outdoors or kayaking down a clear river. Now we can no longer travel freely, enjoying the beauty of nature, and making new friends in distant places.  

During lockdowns we can’t shop in the mall down the street, or even see friends and relatives who live next door.  We can’t even leave our own apartment!  Life has lost all meaning.

A woman and baby sequestered in their Shanghai apartment during an October COVID lockdown. Chinese children, say protestors, are growing up surrounded by fear.
A woman and baby sequestered in their Shanghai apartment during an October COVID lockdown. Chinese children, say protestors, are growing up surrounded by fear.
EPA

We are not afraid of COVID-19, but rather of the hell that we are now living. 

We are tired of being deceived by the powerful year after year. We demand an immediate end to the wrongheaded and absurd “zero-COVID” policy.  

Allow the people to enjoy all the freedoms that are guaranteed by our constitution. End the one-party dictatorship.

Give me liberty or give me death!”

Health workers in Beijing on COVID patrols; dubbed “Big Whites” because of their uniforms, they have almost total control over the daily lives of most people in China.
Health workers in Beijing on COVID patrols; dubbed “Big Whites” because of their uniforms, they have almost total control over the daily lives of most people in China.
AFP via Getty Images

2.    “I Hope These Evil Days Soon End.”

“Everyone here in the southern city of Guangzhou has been given a QR code, which the authorities use to track our movements. Because my family accidentally entered into an area under lockdown, this tracking app sent out a red alert.  

The Big Whites [government authorities dressed in head-to-toe PPE] came to our house, told us we were not allowed to go out, and then sealed us in. All of our mobile phones were constantly monitored, and a tracking system was even installed in our house to monitor everyone in our family 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A covid blockade in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where over 10,000 new cases were recorded in a single day last month. Not only is “zero-COVID” severely punitive, it's simply not working.
A COVID blockade in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where over 10,000 new cases were recorded in a single day last month. Not only is “zero-COVID” severely punitive, it’s simply not working.
AP

In all, we were under lockdown for more than three weeks. Not once during this time did the authorities provide any food or other assistance. Even as we were starving, they continued to threaten us if we complained.

We don’t want to live in fear all the time. As long as the “zero-COVID” policy continues, we could be locked down at home, or even sent away to a quarantine camp, at any time. People here have not only lost their freedom, but also their livelihoods and sometimes even their lives because of the lockdowns.

I myself have lost a well-paying job as design engineer, and have been unable to find another, all because I have not been vaccinated against the latest Omicron variant. No one is allowed to hire me.  Nor am I allowed to fly on a plane or travel by high-speed rail.

At a vigil in Beijing for the fire victims of Urumqi, demonstrators held up blank paper sheets to protest China’s censorship of free speech.
At a vigil in Beijing for the fire victims of Urumqi, demonstrators held up blank paper sheets to protest China’s censorship of free speech.
REUTERS

I hope these evil days soon end.  I want to be able to travel freely, without having to show my QR code at every restaurant, at every store, or even to cross the street.  And one day, I hope to be able to speak freely, instead of anonymously, without fear of being imprisoned.”

3.  “I Just Want to Live in a Normal Society.”

“I am a retired bank employee from the central province of Hubei [the original center of the pandemic]. I oppose the “zero-COVID” policy that makes it impossible to work and earn money to support your family, and the endless lockdowns that destroy people and the economy.

A protestor is arrested by police officers at a Shanghai rally in late November. Despite some easing of covid rules, crowds still demanded that Chinese President Xi Jinping resign.
A protestor is arrested by police officers at a Shanghai rally in late November. Despite some easing of COVID rules, crowds still demanded that Chinese President Xi Jinping resign.
AP

Why can’t we manage the virus humanely and scientifically, so that we can live in freedom? I just want to live in a normal society.

4.     “Three Generations of Chinese People Cannot Speak Freely”

“I am from Beijing, in the Communist-occupied part of the Republic of China on Taiwan. For more than 70 years, three generations of the Chinese people have been unable to speak freely in their own country.  

We want to be free of the control of the terrorist organization that calls itself the Chinese Communist Party. 

I am right now locked up in my own home in the prison state run by the CCP, the same CCP that creates viruses in its labs and releases them to destroy mankind!”

Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Bully of Asia” and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics.” 

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