Rants About Stuff Other People Have Written – Political Edition

Here is my take on some recent articles that, in the broadest sense of the word, are about political matters. You may notice the absence of a topic that is currently far more important than anything discussed here: The European refugee crisis. However, during the writing of this post alone, so many rapid developments changed the whole situation so quickly that anything I would have written at one point would have been outdated at the next. So all I will say here is that, regardless where you stand on the issue, I will remind you of the existence of charities you can donate to to alleviate the plight of people in war-torn regions, however little you may have needed that reminder and whatever it is worth to you.

Now, enjoy (or hate me for) my foolish opinions:

1. Electing political outsiders

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex tries to explain the current success of populist politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Donald Trump in the US. Essentially, he believes that the political spectrum has gotten so divided (at least in these two countries) that it’s no longer really possible for candidates to find a sweet spot between appealing to hardcore ideologues and appealing to more moderate positions. Once they get elected, however, they have to deal with reality, and that means that they have to betray their base in a very transparent way. Which, in turn, fosters an increasing hatred for the political establishment, so the fact that centrist politicians disdain and actively speak out against a demagogic candidate starts to work in their favour:

The most salient feature of Trump – I would say the only salient feature of Trump – is that the establishment hates him. Reince Priebus goes to sleep at night and has nightmares about Trump. The liberal media has important-looking people coming on in suits saying it’s a national embarrassment that anyone could vote for Trump. But in signaling terms, what they’re unintentionally saying is “Moderates hate this guy! He’s too politically incorrect to win over Democrats! Only vote for him if you’re a real Republican.” And Republicans are eating it up. It doesn’t even matter that he’s not that conservative in real life, the media has conducted his campaign for him. Every bad thing the media and the establishment say about him will just make him more popular.

To me, who lives on the other side of the Atlantic/the English channel, that seems like a very persuasive analysis. The only things I have to add are these:Read More »

Does studying in Germany suck balls?

That is what one might glean from a widely read article by Finnish student Juuso Nisula (JN in the following) which appeared this week on the website of German newspaper “Die Zeit” (original text published on his blog). There is also a German version, but regrettably, the parts containing the more juicy formulations, such as the one quoted in this post’s title, have been cut from that. JN does, however, state very clearly and very quickly that his remarks are actually based on personal experience at the Faculty of Finance at the University of Cologne and do not automatically apply elsewhere. I have very little doubt that the problems he cites are not exclusive to this specific department at this specific university, but that doesn’t mean they are always universal in Germany, at least to the extent he describes. So I thought as a service to casual readers who are considering to study abroad, I offer some comments on his “eight reasons not to study in Germany” from my perspective. During my studies, which ended in the not-too-distant past, I also spent some time at the University of Cologne as well as (much more, and more recently) at the University of Bonn, and they were in mathematics rather than some economic subject.

I will mostly focus on the degree to which I did or did not encounter the same problems as JN during that time, although I will occasionally stray into comments on the situation in other fields of study. It is hopefully clear that I don’t want to contradict the facts of the JN account in any way: I completely believe him that the situation at the university and faculty he chooses to focus on is largely as he describes. The main goal here is to provide a limited, but hopefully interesting, view on the degree to which the points from the “Zeit” piece are generalizable. My short answer is: Some are, others are not. Personally, these things did not bother me enough to hate my whole time at the university, but I agree that some of them are important issues worth addressing. So, this is intended less to be a response or refutation, but more a “compare and contrast”. Nevertheless, I also don’t quite always agree with the author’s opinions, and will hopefully make clear at which points that is the case.

Let’s start:

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