Category Archives: GERMAN

What language do you dream in?

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The brain is a funny thing. And funny things happen when your brain goes on vacation. I consider myself bilingual (Romanian and English) and I’ve been living in Germany for more than 15 years now, but never would I have thought that the German language would end up infiltrating… my dreams!

My dreams, yes. For the first time ever, I had a dream in German while I was at home in Romania, which makes it even stranger. And that’s not all. Not only did I dream in German, but I dreamt a whole poem in Goethe’s language! It ruined my sleep, of course, because I was so in awe, I had to make sure I could remember it well enough to jot it down in the morning. I managed to, but – alas! – only the second stanza. The first stanza (up to “Die Schienen…”) is a later addition (which, needless to say, has cost me a lot more effort and a couple of visits to the online dictionary), but the rest is entirely the creation of my subconscious.

So, here it is, I hope you like it:

Auf den Schmalspurzug wartend

Es wird Nacht in den Tälern

und ich muss wieder los.

Ein letzter Blick zum Himmel:

rosarot, erstarrt –

dann der Abstieg,

eine Haltestelle

und ich, alleine in der Unermesslichkeit,

auf den Schmalspurzug wartend.

Die Schienen sind alt, alt und holprig

wie die alten Steinwege der Bauern.

Hinter dem Abendnebel, der Berg,

schneebedeckt,

rutscht in Abwesenheit.

Es ist spät.

Gott lässt sich nieder

auf der bettelnde Handfläche der Pinien.

Stille.

#poetry

Quote of the day

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“Uniformity in the opinions expressed by teachers is not only not to be sought, but is, if possible, to be avoided, since diversity of opinion among preceptors is essential to any sound education. No man can pass as educated who has heard only one side on questions as to which the public is divided. One of the most important things to teach in educational establishments of a democracy is the power of weighing arguments, and the open mind which is prepared in advance to accept whichever side appears the more reasonable.”

Bertrand Russel (philosopher and Nobel Prize winner) – in an essay called “Freedom and the Colleges”, 1940.

#education #pluralism #freedom #opinion

Children saying scary things

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My daughter (10), elated that she got into the class she wanted and avoided the all-girls class: ‘All-girls classes suck!’

Me, naively: ‘Why?’

My studious 10-year-old: ‘Because they’d be all prissy and there’d be no boys to fall in love with.’

Ladies and gentlemen, the main purpose of public schooling, right there… in case there was ever any doubt.

(And I say this sarcastically, of course, because when the knowledge content has been thinned out and dumbed down beyond recognition, what else is left but socialization…)

Podge and his book from the sky – A fable

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Once upon a time there was a badger. We’ll call him Podge, because that’s what his friends called him. Podge was an intrepid and adamant little badger and he liked to roam the neighborhood at length, looking for fellow creatures to pester – or to snack on.

On one of his nocturnal foraging trips, Podge went a little further than usual and pretty soon came across an animal he had never seen before. An animal so different from himself.

‘What a strange animal… !’ Podge thought and drew closer. ‘Too large to eat and very funny-looking.’

In fact, this animal was so bizarre that, in the dark, Podge couldn’t really tell which end was the head.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’

At first there was no answer, so he tried again.

‘Hi,’ he repeated. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’

The strange animal stirred.

‘Why are you talking to my tail?’

‘Oh, sorry,’ Podge said and came trotting around to the other end.

And indeed, upon closer inspection, he was now able to make out a long, thin snout and a pair of ears.

‘I have never seen an animal like you. What are you, exactly?’ Podge asked.

‘What do you mean? I am me. I am who I am. Do you want to be friends?’

‘I guess, but… what are you?’ he insisted.

‘I don’t understand. Why do I have to be something in particular?’

‘Well, we’re all something. We all have to be something.’

‘Why?’

‘Just to know what we are. To know where we belong.’

‘ Well, I may not know what I am, but I still know who I am. I’m me. Isn’t that enough?’

‘But… but all the creatures in the world need to know what they are!’ Podge spluttered.

‘Why?’

‘I’m not exactly sure, but I am very pleased to know what I am and what everything around me is. I know what is food, friend, or foe. It’s easier to play with things when you know what they are.’

‘Hm,’ the other creature said incredulously and walked on, snout to the ground.

‘Aren’t you curious what I am?’

‘You’re someone who calls his friends thing names.’

But Podge didn’t hear.

‘I’m a badger,’ he pronounced proudly and confidently.

‘Says who?’

‘Everyone I know.’

‘Badger,’ muttered the creature. ‘That’s just a sound. It means nothing to me. But if you’re fond of this sound, so be it, you will be the Badger.’

‘And you? What are you?’

‘I already told you. I’m me. Why are you so obsessed with categories?’

Podge went home and found it extremely hard to fall asleep. It bothered him. He did not know where to place this creature he had met. And what should he call it? The following night he went back determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. He packed his sacred book and a flashlight. For hours on end he looked at the creature, looked at himself, then leafed back and forth through his book. It was morning already. The sun was up. He was getting tired. Finally, he exclaimed:

‘I know! I know what you are! You’re an aardvark!’ He was so relieved.

‘You think so?’

‘I know so!’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because my book says so, look!’ he said and pointed to a picture on a page that said “Aardvarks”.

‘And how does the book know I’m an aardvark? Maybe they just had to come up with a name and didn’t know any better.’

‘Oh, no, no, no. Not a chance. This book knows everything there is to know. It’s a magical book. And it’s always right.’

‘Really? How do you know that?’ the aardvark asked again.

‘Well, because this book came to us directly from the sky!’

‘No kidding…’

‘Yes, yes. I found it myself one morning on the forest floor. There was nobody else around, and it’s too heavy for our birds to carry. So, it must have fallen from the sky!’

‘Hm,’ the creature muttered again and tried to sniff out some ants.

‘You eat ants! Perfect, that’s perfect. You’re a good aardvark!’

‘How do you know I’m a good aardvark?’

‘Because that’s just what my book says you’re supposed to eat!’

‘I also eat cucumber,’ the aardvark replied.

‘Oh no, you really shouldn’t!’ Podge retorted with a worried look on his face.

‘Why not?’

‘Because my book says nothing about cucumbers. That means you’re probably not allowed to eat them. Oh boy, why do you have to eat cucumbers? What is wrong with you? It’s so unnatural.. You should eat termites!’

‘Hm,’ the aardvark said. ‘I had no idea there was something wrong with me until just now. But I do eat termites rather frequently,’ he apologized.

‘Oh, good!’

‘I’m curious,’ the aardvark inquired. ‘Do you always do what the book says?’

‘Oh yes, always!’

‘And what does your book say about badgers?’

‘A badger is a short-legged nocturnal omnivore,’ Podge read solemnly.

‘Nocturnal, huh? Then how come you are up and about after daybreak?’ the aardvark wanted to know.

Podge blushed, felt guilty and fell silent. He picked up his things and scurried home to sleep on it.

‘What a strange animal… !’ the aardvark thought. ‘He walks around at night with only one book and a tiny flashlight, yet claims to know what everything is…’

Quote of the day

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On sex education:

“There is no sound reason, of any sort or kind, for concealing facts when talking to children. Their questions should be answered and their curiosity satisfied in exactly the same way in regard to sex as in regard to the habits of the fishes, or any other subject that interests them. (…)

The child who is told what he wants to know, and allowed to see his parents naked, will have no pruriency and no obsession of a sexual kind. Boys who are brought up in official ignorance think and talk much more about sex than boys who have always heard this topic treated on a level with any other. (…) All ignorance is regrettable, but ignorance on so important a matter as sex is a serious danger. (…)

Speaking not only from theory, but from practical experience, I am convinced that complete openness on sexual subjects is the best way to prevent children from thinking about them excessively, nastily or unwholesomely, and also the almost indispensable preliminary to an enlightened sexual morality.”

Bertrand Russel – Our Sexual Ethics (first published in 1936!)

Quote of the day

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“Surely, inspirational language to create a secure consensus is still used, in our time, to cover up serious conflicts of interest in that consensus, and to cover up, also, the omission of large parts of the human race.”

Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the United States (Harper Perennial, Reissue Edition 2015)

#language #languageandpolitics #languageandthemedia #discourse

Quote of the day

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Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the most thoughtless, and in the absence of knowledge it is almost sure to be a silly philosophy. The result of this is that the human race becomes divided into rival groups of fanatics, each group firmly persuaded that its own brand of nonsense is sacred truth, while the other side’s is damnable heresy. (…)

Dogmatism is an enemy to peace, and an insuperable barrier to democracy. In the present age, at least as much as in former times, it is the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness. The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but it is nevertheless an intellectual vice. (…)

But so long as men are not trained to withhold judgement in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.”

Bertrand Russel – “Philosophy for Laymen” in Unpopular Essays (English Edition)

#dogmatism #democracy #freedom #ideology #peace #personaldevelopment #philosophy

Quote of the day

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We are now again in an epoch of wars of religion, but a religion is now called an ‘ideology’. At the moment, the Liberal philosophy is felt by many to be too tame and middle-aged: the idealistic young look for something with more bite in it, something which has a definite answer to all their questions, which calls for missionary activity and gives hope of a millennium brought about by conquest. (…)

Our confused and difficult world needs various things if it is to escape disaster, and among these one of the most necessary is that, in the nations which still uphold Liberal beliefs, these beliefs should be wholehearted and profound, not apologetic towards dogmatisms of the Right and of the Left, but deeply persuaded of the value of liberty, scientific freedom, and mutual forbearance.”

Bertrand Russel – “Philosophy and Politics” in Unpopular Essays (English Edition). First published in 1950.

#dogmatism #freedom #liberalism #ideology #personaldevelopment #philosophy

Quote of the day

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Ideologies are harmless, uncritical and arbitrary opinions only as long as they are not believed in seriously. Once their claim to total validity is taken literally they become the nuclei of logical systems in which, as in the systems of paranoiacs, everything follows comprehensibly and even compulsorily once the first premise is accepted. The insanity of such systems lies not only in their first premise but in the very logicality with which they are constructed. The curious logicality of all isms, their simple-minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality and factuality.

Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Modern Classics – 1951/2017)

Quote of the day

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“It is in the very nature of totalitarian regimes to demand unlimited power. Such power can only be secured if literally all men, without a single exception, are reliably dominated in every aspect of their life. (…)

(…) spontaneity as such, with its incalculability, is the greatest of all obstacles to total domination over man.”

Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Modern Classics – 1951/2017)