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Angela Merkel Discovers the Internet -- and Inspires a Meme

Barack Obama's visit to Berlin may have sparked a wave of commentary and analysis, but it was an offhand remark from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that gave birth to a meme. Responding to questions about the National Security Agency's PRISM program during a joint press conference with the U.S. president, Merkel noted that the "Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us."

"And it also enables our enemies," she continued. "It enables enemies of a free, liberal order, to use it, to abuse it, to bring a threat to all of us, to threaten our way of life.  And this is why we value cooperation with the United States on questions of security.

Sounds fairly innocuous, right? The web may not exactly be a new invention, but governments around the world are still assessing its impact and capabilities, especially after the recent revelations about American spying. Unfortunately for Merkel, German Internet users are not so forgiving. The German term Merkel used for "uncharted territory," neuland (literally "new land"), conjured up images of 15th-century explorers discovering previously unknown lands. For context, the closest analogy for Americans might be former Sen. Ted Stevens' infamous description of the Internet as a "series of tubes."

Germans are nothing if not avid web users (German Wikipedia is the third-largest edition of the online encyclopedia in the world, after English and Dutch, even though German is only the 12th-most spoken language on the globe), and Merkel's comments quickly spawned a full-blown Internet meme -- replete with a hashtag, #neuland.

Some expressed frustration about seemingly out-of-touch politicians legislating something they can't understand:

 

Others responded with a little more humor. The caption reads, "June 19th, 2013 - Merkel discovers #neuland"

Some Photoshop efforts bordered on the disturbing, like this one:

And others, like this rent-a-car company, rushed to capitalize on the chancellor's remarks. The caption reads, "For all those who want to discover Neuland"

Here, a flash video, entitled, "Merkel's travels in Neuland," depicts the chancellor dressed as a conquistador arriving on a tropical island:

 

And inevitably -- per a kind of Godwin's Law for Internet memes -- someone finally brought up cats:

TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

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Canada Joins Bahrain, Saudi Arabia in Banning Masks -- but Only at Riots

The list of oppressive countries legislating the wearing of masks keeps growing: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now ... Canada.

Yes, Canada.

Last month, we reported on Saudi Arabia banning the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, which have been a staple of populist protests from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, and now the Taksim Square protests in Turkey. The Canadian ban is a bit different -- but just as strange.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes it illegal to wear a mask in Canada "during a riot or unlawful assembly." (Because apparently Canadian laws against rioting aren't dissuasive enough?) Those caught wearing masks during riots could spend up to six months in jail, not including additional charges for rioting; masked miscreants caught "inciting" a riot face a potential 10-year sentence. CBC reports that "exceptions can be made if someone can prove they have a 'lawful excuse' for covering their face such as religious or medical reasons."

Does that include dust masks to prevent getting sick at crowded, dirty protests? Balaclavas so protesters don't freeze on cold Canadian nights? Handkerchiefs to stave off the inhalation of tear gas? Do fake beards, like the one worn by the Canadian student above, count as masks? That's unclear, and will be left up to law enforcement officers' judgment. "In policing that's always the challenge -- we're required to use our discretion and judgment in every situation," Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association and Vancouver Police Union, told CBC.

Not only are the terms of the new law loosely defined, but the legislation may be redundant. Critics of the bill point out that there is already a Canadian law on the books prohibiting wearing a disguise "with intent to commit an indictable offense." But Canadian law enforcement officials counter that the law's original purpose -- it was aimed at incidences of armed robbery -- have made it difficult to apply to rioters.

"We can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been safer with [the bill's] passage," the law's sponsor, Member of Parliament Blake Richards, told reporters.

So, if you're planning on rioting in Canada, remember the old "only break one law at a time" rule and don't wear a mask. Or hope that the law goes unenforced -- like that mask ban in Saudi Arabia.

ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/GettyImages