Tuesday, February 26, 2008

German police dogs get shoes

Today saw the beginning of the end for German Parmesan as the European Court of Justice dealt with the question of what is Parmesan. The German government argued that in Germany Parmesan was a generic name for hard cheese. However the court said that only the authentic product bearing the name "Parmigiano Reggiano" could be sold using the name.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." said Juliet. It is an old trick. A specific product is given the name of a similar, but better, more exclusive product in the hope that more people will buy it. Sherry, champagne and feta cheese all have their names protected for the same reason, to prevent cheap imitations spoiling the reputation and the sales of the brand. But how do we decide on the names of things? By common consent or after a struggle over markets and definitions. What would happen if I called my cat "iPod?" Could Apple sue me? Of course not. Often the naming process ends up with the top brand (such as Hoover or Biro) ending up being the general name. (Don't worry by the way. We'll get to those police dogs in a minute.) Thus we google as well as search. In the future the German consumer will not need to worry about where the Parmesan came from. Words have power, and so it is that people will go to great lengths to protect them. Not just consumer products but also ideas are subject to the same struggles over ownership. Copyright and patents are the subject of much political and legal debate at the moment. One issue in particular is of vital importance to future generations. As a result of the trend by biotechnology companies to patent seeds, much of the world's food diversity is being put at risk. Recently India and Pakistan have taken steps to protect the name and the genetics of Basmati rice from attempts to patent them. Brand recognition means big bucks and so the temptation to deceive is also great. But what about the German shepherd dogs with shoes? Well they got them because of an idea maybe. The dogs are being given shoes in Dusseldorf because of broken glass on the streets in the famous Altstadt where the Cookiemouse has drunk many glasses of Altbier, one of the best beers in the world. Some years ago, in order to help the environment, the German government put a deposit on cans of beer, and so the glass bottle became popular again. Sadly it seems that the habit of throwing the empties on the street also caught on to the extent that the poor police dogs now need boots! Last night I had to walk home because a piece of broken glass punctured my bicycle tyre. So a plea to drunks with empty beer bottles to dispose of. Can you maybe think of the dogs and bicycles who have to deal with the consequences of your throwaway mentality? Ideas tend to develop a life of their own. Now it seems that as well as giving a dog a bad name, we can also damage its paws with our carelessness. To close on a positive note here is some random Berlin photography that's well worth looking at, and a Lhasa Apso snowdog in Central Park. Wonder if he needs boots?

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