Although I was born in Heidelberg and have lived here for 18 years of my life, I had never seen the Neckar river frozen. Yet this morning, as I was cycling across Theodor Heuss bridge at a freezing -11 degrees Celsius (~12,2 °F), I finally witnessed this bold spectacle of nature for the fist time:
taken by FJM, 11 February 2012
The reason we can experience this welcome side-effect of icy temperatures again, is, of course, the shutdown of the Obrigheim nuclear power plant in 2005. For more than 40 years, the plant's cooling water had been led into the river, keeping the water temperature consistently above 0 °C. Now the gradual fading-out of nuclear power in Germany might spark a Renaissance of ice-skating in the south-west.
British intellectual Theodore Dalrymple has this to say about the riots in the ever more disunited Kingdom. And he takes a mighty whack at a recently-beautified British Icon. Merciless but entertaining, as always:
Relatively poor as the rioting sector of society is, it nevertheless possesses all the electronic equipment necessary for the prosecution of the main business of life; that is to say, entertainment by popular culture. And what a culture British popular culture is!
Perhaps Amy Winehouse was its finest flower and its truest representative in her militant and ideological vulgarity, her stupid taste, her vile personal conduct and preposterous self-pity.
Her sordid life was a long bath in vomitus, literal and metaphorical, for which the exercise of her very minor talent was no excuse or explanation. Yet not a peep of dissent from our intelllectual class was heard after her near canonisation after her death, that class having long had the backbone of a mollusc.
The Henry Jackson Society worries about the well-being of UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. And rightly so, given his strange and involuntarily hilarious performance in a BBC interview on the ongoing union strikes in Britain. Obviously, Miliband's preparation for the interview consisted of memorising a single sentence containing a few standard labour talking points ("these strikes are wrong!" "the government acted in a provocative manner" "both sides should put away the rhetoric" "orchids are pretty"), which he uses to reply to all of the interviewer's questions. As far as political communication is concerned, this could be the blunder of the decade. Watch it here (lower quality youtube version here).
German Joys alerts us to this highly interesting dialogue between a New York college professor (“T” for teacher) and a man who ghost-writes student essays for money (“C” for cheater). In the course of their conversation, T and C discuss the incentives for plagiarism in higher education:
C: Now, I’m not saying there’s no virtue in forcing people to take classes in things they aren’t interested in. But plagiarism is going to happen in a society in which you are told, “This is something you need to do in order to have the life you want, and in order to have the life you want there are things you must do that you don’t want to do, and may even be incapable of doing. Now, we don’t really care where you went to high school, and we can’t speak to the quality of your English professors. So, here, write a paper about philosophy. And if you cheat, we will fucking expel you.” But if you don’t cheat, you’ll get a D, which is as good as being expelled. And that’s a rock and a hard place.
T: I was discussing this very issue with a representative of my department, and that is indeed the case. In a rational choice model, it’s actually, in certain cases, if you get at all behind with your work—all of them have jobs, many of them have children, some of them are not native English speakers, so they’re already at a disadvantage relative to the course that’s being taught to them—and the course that’s being taught to them can’t be “dumbed down to their level” because then the degree becomes meaningless anyway… The rational choice model encourages cheating.
I think “C” is raising an important point here, one that has not been emphasised enough in the past and that certainly did not receive enough attention in the coverage of recent German plagiarism scandals. In a previous post, I have used the term Titlemania to describe Germany’s insane obsession with academic titles. For irrational reasons, the German professional world craves for job candidates with the letters D and R in front of their names, thus incentivising people to pursue doctoral degrees even if they have zero intention to work in academia afterwards. This, obviously, leads to universities being swamped with often mediocre dissertations, and to their staff having to waste their time with research attempts whose printed results are destined to end up in some library’s basement never to be consulted again. Now, “C” establishes a convincing link between a professional culture that values pretention (“you have to do/ to have X in order to get the job you want/ be successful/ become rich”) and plagiarism by noting that the degree of pretention and the frequency of cheating are likely to be positively correlated. A first step to remedy this problem could be for universities not to admit students to degree programs in whose contents they are not interested. Obviously, this would require a careful selection process, but the increase in quality of produced dissertations will eventually reflect the benefits of selection.