Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Points of Failure

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Things fail, shit happens. But shouldn’t people be prepared?

The first instance of this happened when I tried to get an appointment with my orthopaedist on Monday. As I wasn’t dying at the time I couldn’t. Everyone in the practice seemed to be running around cluelessly and I was kindly asked to call again on Wednesday. Why? Their computer system broken down. Thus they didn’t have the timetables for appointments and couldn’t look up or change any patient data. I guess they couldn’t do any billing, print prescriptions or look up drugs in databases either. So on the one hand they finally had the opportunity to just be doctors, on the other hand everything seemed pretty chaotic.

The practice must have a revenue of millions per year. Shouldn’t they have proper computer tools and backup systems? If a computer system is of a quality that it can go AWOL for a whole day or two, shouldn’t I be concerned about how well it protects my data in it as well?

But let’s move to another constant point of failure. Which in this town of course is the university. On Friday is the big day for many people again to receive their PhD. This includes people I know. They’ll have to sit through some boring talk with their advisors and parents and then they’ll come out where their friends and colleagues will wait have some fun hats and drinks for them and pull them to the Gänseliesel in little carts where they have to climb up and kiss the girl statue.

That’s just what has been done here forever, or at least for ages and certainly for longer than I am alive. It could be said that people study for years and do their PhD just get this opportunity. It’s a big thing. And the people, their friends, colleagues and parents are looking forward to it before heading off to some nearby party. So I’d say this is an important event. Both for the people who are involved and who invite all their friends and family. But also for the university if they care the least for their students. And in a way, if it matters for the university it should also matter for the town which is announced as Universitätsstadt Göttingen at the railway station when you leave the train because, frankly, nobody would give a rat’s ass about this place if it weren’t about the university.

And while this university is piss poor compared to wealthy places like Cambridge, I’m pretty sure it, together with its hospital is the biggest employer in the region, so the town should have very concrete motivation to make them happy. But – you saw that coming – that’s probably not going to happen.

People saw that there’s a demonstration announced for the very same time that the freshly announced PhDs and their entourage will move across town to kiss the girl statue. So they asked with the city whether that was a joke and told them that many other people will be there for a completely different reason and that things are likely going to clash. But the ‘autorities’ didn’t even know this was happening.

Of course we could blame the city for this. This event takes place several times per year and has done so for decades. They should have known. On the other hand as far as city administration and the police go – nobody expects them to be friendly or helpful or anything. They’re rather expected to be bored bureaucrats sitting in their offices trying to make sure everything goes ‘by the book’ and with the least conceivable effort to them. And that book certainly doesn’t include informal drunken processions of freshly made PhDs.

However, if this university were a somewhat working institution they would have someone to make sure the city is aware of the events coming up and ensuring everything works smoothly. But of course it doesn’t. Things ‘just happen’. And from time to time they go wrong.

Actually I had an argument with my colleague about this this afternoon. She was almost apologetic for the university, saying that this hadn’t happened before, so they couldn’t have known. Whereas I said, that this is exactly the behaviour of a defunct organisation – nobody cares until things go wrong. Whereas a properly working organisation would make sure things will work properly even though they worked properly the last ten times. Sure, this little ‘run’ isn’t part of the official university event. But it’s still part of the same event and if the university cared, they’d make sure it runs smoothly. If they had a working relationship with the city (which I suppose they should have, but with the varying degrees of incompetence you find within the university administration and city bureaucrats, you can never know…), I’m sure this wouldn’t have been an effort of making more than a phone call or two.

And that not to forbid the demonstration but just to move it in either location or time which probably wouldn’t have been a problem.

That said the demonstration itself is basically an honourable thing. There’s going to be a Nazi demonstration on Saturday and this is a counter-demonstration which apparently shouldn’t be at the same time because of all the troubles there were at a similar event last October.

The whole story is a bit long-wound. But a short (and possibly wrong) version goes like this: From time to time the Nazis want to demonstrate. Free country, free speech and all, this is all right of course, particularly if they’re doing their thing against reforms of the welfare state or whatever. As these things have to be announced well in advance, usually a counter-demonstration is organised to make clear the ideas of the Nazis aren’t welcome, and that the Nazis themselves aren’t welcome either. Support for those counter demonstrations ranges from churches to unions to the less and more radical left activists. So they easily outnumber the Nazis in participants but also have groups of people who’d be quite eager to beat up a Nazi or three.

And in between there are the police to make sure people don’t meet and beat each other up or leave their assigned paths or generally annoy passer-bys. And in October they had a few hundred Nazis, a few hundred aggressive counter-protesters and about ten times as many of both peaceful counter-protestors and police-people. In the end the Nazi demonstration had to stop and there were plenty of burning rubbish bins in town. A hope back then was that this amount of chaos would make it easier to just not have the Nazi demonstrations around here to begin with. Let’s say the city probably isn’t too happy about that.

But the right to demonstrate seems to be quite a fundamental one. So while the city may not grant the right to demonstrate right away, the Nazis usually have their lawyers handy and go to court (on state level or ultimately to the constitutional court) and at one of the latter stages – where ‘let’s not have trouble around here’ factors don’t play a role, I guess – some right to demonstrate is usually granted. And that’ll happen on Saturday… with the counter demonstration happening in the afternoon on Friday.

Needless to say that the determined of the anti-Nazi protesters want to make their voice heard on Saturday as well but that won’t be allowed. And a lot of police (many thousand) are expected to be here to protect the Nazis (and while I don’t envy them for that sucky job it’s a bit hard to feel sorry for them). In fact, I wondered why there have been police buses with non-Göttingen number plates around town in the past weeks.

Apparently that’s a plan to show presence in advance and scare everybody enough to not mess too much on Saturday. Of course people are upset by that strategy and I’m sure that those who wanted to protest anyway are even more determined to do so. But – besides the uncomfortable feeling of seeing too many uniformed armed people in town – it leaves everybody in an awkward situation. And while I suppose that usually there’d be something like a ‘sympathetic indifference’ between the hardcore anti-Nazi protestors and those who want to celebrate their PhDs, things are in an uncomfortable position now. If things don’t work out – which I doubt they will – the PhDs will hate the protestors for ruining their parties and I assume the protestors won’t be willing (if that were technically possible at such short notice) to negotiate the time or place of their demonstration because they feel they’re getting a bad deal already as it is.

Some links: redical m, A.L.I. (including some posters for the cause), Mayday, Indymedia. It irritates me a lot how indymedia ‘reports’ about these things… I had hoped for more neutrality rather than building a parallel reality. When looking around on some of the right wing websites to see how the same events are presented with their spin, I had the impression that while the language / jargon they use differed, structurally the reports were very similar. Hmhmhmhm.

May 11, 2006, 0:03

Tagged as uni.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

I used to be shocked when businesses had no backup plan in the event of a computer failure. Now it seems to happen so often, I don’t even bother expressing surprise or outrage. Just yesterday I tried to follow-up on a contact lens order that was way overdue. The order was entered into the computer, but when everything crashed shortly after I called, there was absolutely no trace of it. They don’t even keep a written call sheet of any kind… which is fine if your computer system is keeping track of non-essential data. But a medical facility who processes contact lenses and medicine prescriptions? Stupidity. Thank heavens it isn’t heart medication I’m waiting on… I’d be dead.

May 11, 2006, 2:14

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