Monthly Archives: July 2012

Ethics: What Is Debatable?

What do the following statements have in common?

“I don´t support abortions. They are wrong.”

“I generally condemn embryo research – actually, I consider it murder, not _research_.”

“I believe that euthanasia should be illegal.”

Correct. They are all moral judgments without substantiation. Way too often do we hear that X or Y is “immoral” without being told why exactly. Sometimes people argue “but the Bible/Quran/insert-a-holy-book-here says so“, sometimes (especially when people run out of arguments – well, “arguments” – altogether) we are told that “yeah, it is just wrong, I know it“. Right?

No. I am sorry, but someone´s feeling of what is moral is not an argument I would buy. If you were able to explain why a) abortion is murder (i.e. life begins at conception), b) the right to live of a fetus is more important than the right to bodily integrity – then yes, that would be different. I am open to discussions about morality, but beware: I am rather allergic to those “somebody said so” claims.

I could go on and argue why I personally believe in certain things, but instead, I would like to pose a few questions, my dear Readers, for you to think about (feel free to comment below):

A) Are women able to achieve equality when they live in a non-secular society? [see here some provoking facts; but feel free to argue even that women should not be equal to men]

B) Would it be OK to pay poor people to have less kids? [a place to start for example here]

C) Is euthanasia acceptable? [I strongly recommend this blog with many useful moral analyses]

Alternatively – do you have something that is really eating you? Please comment. Why? Because nothing is 100% good or bad – and before we as a society make a definite moral judgment, all those various points of view should be heard and taken into account. Why? Because hopefully then our decisions will not harm others (yes, dogmatists, I am talking about you).

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Posted by on 29 July, 2012 in Education, Random


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Language Course Highlights

Summer courses. Everybody seems do be doing at least one nowadays. Well, guess what! I hopped on the bandwagon too: I went to Frankfurt for two weeks to refresh my German and now have a couple of hints, tips and stories to share with you: Feel free to comment, laugh, facepalm… or do just about anything else.

1. Intensive courses are not worth the extra money. If a “standard” language course means 20h/week and the “super-intensive” 28h/week, the difference is negligible. (If it is a good course, you will work your a.. off anyway; if it is bad, those extra lessons won´t save it. Besides, nothing beats real-life conversations with native speakers who are – hopefully – around.)

2. DO experiment. Both with the language and the food. While I do agree that exotic food might not always count as “fun” (think of the next morning´s consequences), language concoctions mostly do. Anyway, I can heartily recommend coconut soup (!) and black bubble tea with milk.

3. Make new friends. Sure, you might never see each other again, but that´s no reason to stay at the hotel all the time! As Penny from The Big Bang Theory might put it: “Go out and talk to people!”

4. Go wild. At least for once. Do something other would never expect from you: Go whiskey tasting, join the belly dancing club, sign up for scuba diving lesson. But hey, be safe. (For those of you who ever come to Frankfurt – go and check out where apple wine is made – amazing experience!)

5. Take pictures. Go on excursions, do all that crazy stuff you have always dreamt of doing – and capture those moments! And no, not having a fancy camera is not an excuse (because you probably have a smartphone anyway). Then again, think carefully about the appropriate time of taking pictures – security check at the airport is not the best place (true story).

But most importantly – enjoy the time! Remember that learning a language is not an isolated action consisting of doing your homework and reading the textbook: Rather, it is real-life practice that makes perfect.

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Posted by on 22 July, 2012 in Education


Sexism and Football: Yo Girl, You Can´t Play

It was a sunny Friday evening and me and a couple of my friends went to play football. Since a lot of “friends of friends” came as well, we were quite a diverse group – and that´s where the problem emerged.

Side-note and a warning: I am not a feminist. But I won´t remain silent if a bigot is making someone´s life miserable. So here we go:

We had a newcomer (“a friend of friend of friend”) this time. Let´s call him Mike. We divided ourselves into teams and started to play. And guess who became patronizing girls to “stay rather in the back” and “not to bother trying to score”! He even went as far as to tell the girls that they should not be allowed to participate in penalty shootouts – well, because “girls aren´t good at it”.

While the other girl on my team started to cry and simply walked back to the building to have a shower, I was boiling with anger: How dare he assume someone´s inferiority or lack of skill or practice? How dare he be so insensitive? How dare he judge us on the basis of our gender? …

A (male, by the way) friend of mine caught the glimpse of my anger and rushed to rescue: “Well, Mike – I think you shouldn´t play because of what you said.” Needless to say, Mike´s smile froze. His sexism didn´t win him approval, rather, he became the odd one out.

I had my way – and missed. A girl´s pride that came before a fall? …I don´t think so. Sure, we lost – but that was because not a single person from our team managed to score, including me – and four boys. But the important lesson and take-away message is… that we didn´t care. We play football together because we want to have fun – not to win at the cost of offending a friend just because she happens to have the ability to breastfeed and give birth one day.

Final side-note: I would not have volunteered for the penalty shootout had Mike not been so arrogant – I am well aware that some of my friends are simply better than me (and am always ready to admit that).

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Posted by on 15 July, 2012 in Random


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How to Motivate Stubborn/Lazy Teens: Chapter for Coaches

<even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>

Being sixteen nowadays must be difficult. First love, big career/university decisions, (probably) first glass of alcohol and first cigarette, first need to “grow up”. Add all those flashy magazines telling you how to look, TV commercials telling you what to eat, what to do – and parents who do their best to influence their kids before they leave home (read: before it is too late).

And now imagine that you – as a sports/debate/what-have-you coach – are facing five/eleven/infinity-minus-one teenagers to whom you need to explain that

a) if they want to become a part of the team, they need to work hard indeed – rewards don´t just materialize themselves out of thin air (surprise, surprise!) and

b) people stirring conflicts are not desirable in this community. 

This task in itself wouldn´t be so difficult if it weren´t for one extra obstacle: Imagine that two days ago, these five/eleven/… had a huge fight and now refuse to talk to each other. (And no, you can´t just select a new team. There is no easy way out here.)

Believe it or not, I think I have found the solution to dealing with (over)sensitive teens. Here it is. (Coaches, teachers, supervisors, take note – or help me improve this recipe :))

1. Highlight common ground: Goals everybody shares, benefits, rewards (including fun, for example). Praise hard work but do not publicly shame those who are currently shirking. (You will deal with those later.)

2. Make them feel at ease. Show that it is normal that sometimes things go wrong. Don´t be afraid to admit that perfection is impossible – but motivate them, because if they try hard, near-perfection (read: performance you can be proud of) is attainable. Have you ever done something silly? Make them laugh. Show that you are more than a strict coach who will lead them to success; you are also a friend who “understands”.

3. Point out flaws, but don´t be too specific (yet): Explain what sort of behaviour you support and expect (and why, if necessary) and set the rules: Be strict, but stay within reasonable bounds: There is only so much pressure a stressed high school student can endure.

4. Open discussion. Ask them – where do you see the problem? What should change – what should I change, for example? This has two purposes: One, you show them that you value their opinion, two, you might get to hear what might be the factors splitting the team apart.

5. Finally, one-on-one session. Take the time, talk to them, one by one. Now you can be very specific. Moreover, when they are alone, they are more likely to tell you what is really eating them. Based on that, you can either think of a conciliatory activity (bowling? BBQ? cycling trip? …sky is the limit!) – or help individuals talk about a specific problem. (Chances are, you are unbiased and can see the whole picture – which they probably can´t.)

Result? I don´t know how about you (but I would love to hear 🙂 ) – but as far as I can tell, my conciliatory recipe worked like magic on the national team: While in the morning it seemed the kids would eat each other alive, in the evening they all genuinely worried when one of them had to see the doctor because of severe pain in her hunches (no clue how that happened – you just can´t leave them unattended!). “Tick” for today. We survived.

</even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>

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Posted by on 8 July, 2012 in Education


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Argumentation: By Definiton

Nothing in the world – at least as far as forensic matters are concerned – annoys me more than situations when people try to circumvent the issue by “cleverly” defining the controversial terms. For example, when somebody tells you that they cannot define the word “irrational” because there is no clear consensus on what it means – and hence, no discussion can be held. Or, when somebody refuses to talk about stem cells from embryos (“because those are CLEARLY wrong, right?” – no.). Or, when you want to discuss modern weapons and your conversation partner excludes drones, nukes, infra-red and smart missiles. (That´s sort of like talking about dogs, but being able to talk only about dachshund.)

The reason this annoys me so much is that it shows that adults (!) are unable to defend (or sometimes cannot even imagine someone else defending) a position they disagree with. In consequence, they, just like little stubborn kids, don´t look you in the eye, talk about the non-controversial parts and hope for you changing the topic. But that´s still not the worst thing.

The worst thing is that many people do it even when they are supposed to defend their own view! Sure, it can be difficult to look at things from the “other” perspective (although I still think that an educated human being should be able to do so), but the ability to stand up for one´s beliefs should be a basic skill in today´s world… hopefully?

Even scholars, students at prestigious schools, politicians or other public figures sometimes resort to this technique. The technique of “under my definition, your problem does not exist”. I agree – it makes the world much simpler. There are no unresolved clashes and everybody seems content. But not everybody is.

I won´t go deeper into my view of how progress comes about (i.e. by challenging other people´s views, confronting different opinions and gradually changing and adapting one´s perspective), but I would like to underscore the following: I honestly do not know of a problem that was solved by burying someone´s head in the sand. (Except perhaps for the play Titus Andronicus – but even there, the head of Aaron remained above the sand, while the body was buried.)

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Posted by on 1 July, 2012 in Random


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