How not to solve university unhappiness

A book on unhappiness in British universities? Great. Much needed. But, from the review at least, you get the sense that he’s totally Missing The Point:

Students are also thought to be victims of the happiness industry. The author suggests that rather than enhancing wellbeing, the preoccupation with student satisfaction, value for money and support for special needs may, in fact, breed unhappiness. Surveys of student satisfaction are singled out for blame: Watson highlights a “reverse Hawthorne effect” based on their findings, where “the more they are encouraged to assert their consumer rights, the more inclined they will be to be grumpy”.

So, it has no connection to the vague and insatiable demands placed on students, the ways in which teachers assign work with only the faintest idea of how much effort is required for it, or how offhand comments are endlessly amplified by an undergraduate culture generally dependent on rumour to figure out what the tutors really want?

[I avoided academic misery almost entirely, by a combination of being personally resistent to pressure, and studying in a department that went out of its way to shield students from the paranoia across the rest of the university. But I was one of the very few lucky ones]

Photoshop labelling

The Telegraph:

A group of 50 politicians want a new law stating published images must have bold printed notice stating they have been digitally enhanced.


“It is not an attempt to damage creativity of photographers or publicity campaigns, but to advise the public on whether what they are seeing is real or not.”

Well, yes. And that’s before you get onto how unpleasantly inhuman all these doctored images look.

Also, I love that the term ‘airbrushed’ seems set to stick around long, long after every genuine airbrush has been consigned to the scrap-heap

Chinese art in Germany

Sign and Sight, in its weekly guide to the cultural pages of German newspapers, is keeping up a relentless focus on Chinese art. I’m struggling to figure out how much this is a reflection of a genuine trend in the German media, and how much it’s just the interest of S&S’s writers, editors or backers.

Grumbling about theatre in Berlin

The Tagesspiegel has a good old rant about the caution and backwardness of Berlin theatre:

All das existiert bis heute, es ist die Avantgarde von gestern und vorgestern. Wie modrige Pilze. Die Formen und Mischformen erzeugen kaum mehr Reibung, sie werden mehr oder weniger aufregend recycelt.

You want to pat the author on the back, give him a pep-talk. I don’t know nearly enough about the Berlin theatre scene to say whether it’s accurate; certainly there are few people with a positive word to say about Berlin theatre at the moment. My feeling, though, is that the big and famous theatres are


boring, in every city. The interesting stuff is going to come through newer, smaller venues, of which the article avoids much mention. HAU, for instance, seems to be the epicentre of interesting theatre in Berlin, with a constantly-changing programme that puts the bigger places to shame.

On the other hand, much of HAU’s content comes from touring companies; that might not make them the best advert for Berlin thetre.

me dicen el clandestino / por no llevar papel

Ulrich Beck is writing a monthly column on ‘Weltinnenpolitik‘ for the Franfurter Rundschau. His first piece is devoted to the political demands of sans-papiers. It’s not a bad introduction to the issue, which apparently hasn’t really come to the fore in Germany. Particularly, the extent to which entire industries and cultures depend on illegal workers.

CT Fantasy recommendations

Crooked Timber book recommendation threads are always,


worth reading. This time, fantasy, with an interesting number of people trying to worm some SF in one way or another. Why are there more people talking about ideas, people and society in an SF than a fantasy setting? Can we blame it all on Tolkein?