The most logical thing to do


So. My health fund here in capitalist Germany is planning to go to the trouble of asking me whether I want to be an organ donor, in an obscene nationwide ritual celebrating the freedom of organ-owners to be deluded and bloody-minded even beyond the grave.

When I lived in communist Germany I could breathe freely, as I knew that if I was brain-dead the surgeons would follow normal procedure and simply take whatever organs they needed, without asking anyone, because it was (and is) the most logical thing to do.


Allemagne : douze points


Germany vs. Australia — where to live? :-/

DE 1:0 AU “Beipackzettel” with medicines obligatory
DE 0:1 AU Shop opening times
DE 1:0 AU Level of political culture
DE 0:1 AU Level of shopping culture (checkouts)
DE 0:1 AU Civilized getting on/off of public transport
DE 1:0 AU Doors of shops open outwards
DE 0:1 AU Fisher and Paykel appliances
DE 1:0 AU Health insurance system: ease of use
DE 0:1 AU (ditto) : transparency of cost structure
DE 1:0 AU Quality of TV programmes
DE 0:1 AU SBS (Special Broadcasting Service)
DE 1:0 AU People typically know 2 foreign languages
DE 1:0 AU Handheld shower nozzles normal
DE 1:0 AU 24-hour clock in use
DE 1:0 AU Toilet brushes in public toilets
DE 1:0 AU Funny regional dialects
DE 0:1 AU Greetings sound like greetings, not warnings
DE 1:0 AU Buses run on time
DE 1:0 AU TV programmes start on time
DE 0:1 AU People drive on the correct side of the road



When one says it that way (“Kulturwissenschaft”), rather than calling it “Landeskunde” (or the significantly more ghastly “Culture Studies”, with the stress on “Cult”), it almost sounds like something one might in fact be proud to be trying to teach well.
Every culture, of course, has its own preferred way of approaching the other cultures it engages with. In the mid 70s, I attended lectures on “Civilisation française” at the University of Sydney, which were a kind of Guido-Knopp-style, “gee whizz” panorama of historical events and cultural trends; the lectures were accompanied by what in those days were called “slides” (diapositives, projected from the back of the lecture theatre); and at times, audio was added to turn the whole thing into a veritable “son et lumière”. There was no theoretical foundation to it; it was like an extended “explication de texte”, treating everything that ever happened in France as just one big ongoing narrative that it was appropriate to give a running commentary upon. And it went backwards, starting with the 20th century in first year, then jumping back a century or so at a time for higher years.
My own approach to teaching an introductory course on British/Irish Culture Studies to Germans has been a rudimentary historical materialist one, starting with the geological history of the two islands and their initial settlement, and moving through to the modern-day period, initially 500, then approximately 100 years at a time, by comparing the development of productive forces, productive relations, institutions, and ideology.
Next semester I plan to do more theory — at least Berger and Luckmann, and Malinowski; and if possible also some work on multimodal semiotic theory, to help the students decode images better.
But the prospect of teaching two courses simultaneously, one to French students, one to German students, raises the question of cultural presuppositions in an entirely new way. The course for the French students could be more philosophically and linguistically orientated, for example. French students, significantly, and unlike their German counterparts, have usually heard of Bacon and Locke and Hume…
In addition, there needs to be a kind of checklist of cultural concepts, and a reader of essential, very short texts, and music in every lesson. At least the lesson on Roman Britain will be easy to find music for — the total musical legacy of the thousand years of Roman culture amounts to just 45 seconds…
More on this later.

Dog Days Recaniculated


On the bus on the way to work this morning, Ska (actually “Superska”) my favourite part-German-Shepherd mongrel. Unlike his owner, Ska has neither dreadlocks nor proper sweat glands, but he has lovely skull-bones (the dog, that is). I wish people would massage _me_ on public transport while I just lay there with my tongue out, panting…

Dog Days


Dog Days

Sweat, stench, athletic minimalism.  Brought to you courtesy of a conjunction that the precession of the equinoxes has displaced: the heliacal rising of Alpha Canis Majoris. It’s the European meteorological month I love most. Tomorrow, France goes troppo. Germany went gaga and agog a week ago, awash with the dreary droning of vuvuzelas.

At lunchtime: crossing forked tongues with my favourite creationist. I pull out all the stops for him — how our bodies will evolve when we live on other planets or on spaceships, what the precursors of RNA may have been, why Malthus matters; and he simply grins, and shrugs, and blasphemes by implication.

Did human reason survive the Fall unscathed?  I maintained that it’s Christian dogma that it did.  No, wait, I’ll google it for you…

Did human reason survive the Fall unscathed?

*sigh-of-relief* There’s hope for us yet! 🙂

Capitalist plumbing


When I lived in the former German Democratic Republic, I was forced (grudgingly) to admit that there was some truth to the old cliché about the horrors of socialist plumbing: my first two weeks at Karl Marx University coincided with the annual shutting-down (for maintenance) of the hot water system; one of the joins at the end of the S-bend of  a brand-new toilet was leaky and required masses of superglue in a risky do-it-yourself job to fix it; plugs of the right size for kitchen sinks were hard to come by; plumbers generally had to be found by word of mouth, bribed with the offer of real West German coffee to come after hours, and paid in exchangeable currency.

But today I was amused to find that capitalist plumbing is no better.

The tap on my mother’s shower — a perhaps too-ingenious piece of 1970s technology that mixes hot and cold water without increasing the overall amount or pressure of either — broke, just a month-and-a-half after it had last been fixed (twice, at a total cost of nearly $AUD 500). And of course, it was a Sunday.

My mother’s partner, an 87-year-old mechanical engineer, fixed it in a matter of minutes with Swiss precision and despite needing a four-wheeled walker to actually get to the shower recess. Unlike the plumber, he had once taken the trouble to learn how these 1970s cartridges work, and how they should be mounted.

I told him he should go into business.

Error category “K”


A student of mine, who had just turned 28 the day before, wrote in an ICQ message:
“i am used to be a senior student”.

When I pointed out that it should be “i am used to being” his reply was: “sorry, but maybe you know “kölsch” (cologne beer)?”

I therefore propose a new error category: K.

That’s what its abbreviation will be, scribbled in casual annoyance in the margin of a student’s translation (yes, some teachers still need margins, and paper 🙂

But what shall the K denote?  Just the error “i am used to be” instead of “i am used to being”?  Or anything at all that suggests the student drank too much beer the night before?

If the latter, then K could become a kind of Kavaliersdelikt.

The issue of the lexical semantics of “senior student” will be addressed on another occasion.

Tallis’d out


I have never put my hope in any other but you, Thomas Tallis.