Chris DeBurgh is Alive!

It's the last Saturday in January, so that means it must be time for the Winter Festival of Folk Music!! I poured myself a nice mug of Glühwein, fired up a gigantic joint cinnamon-scented candle, and switched on ARD.

And who should I see but one of the many washed-up underappreciated stars of the Anglosphere who have found refuge in Germany — Chris DeBurgh. Here, DeBurgh — who clambered onto the edge of the Anglosphere's radar screen in the mid-1980s and then disappeared forever — sings a duet with Florian Silbereisen.

I had assumed that DeBurgh was moldering in permanent rehab or running a B & B by now, but he's alive, kicking, and…step-dancing:

Note: Apparently Sony Music, as part of the music business' ingenious business strategy, has decided to prevent Germans from seeing this video, which was broadcast on a German public television station just two days ago. Your TV taxes at work! This software (which is annoying but effective) can help.

UPDATE: Found a clip that seems to work better, who knows for how long…

I Choose Butcherer Number One

What follows is a brief excerpt from a truly reprehensible 1970s American television show, The Dating Game. In this show, a woman is invited to choose between three "bachelors" who vie for her favors with sleazy sexual innuendoes. Why this would have been considered attractive is anyone's guess — hey, it was the 1970s.

The host sets the tone with double entrendres creepy enough to drive you into the priesthood:

Since I was a pre-teen at the time this show ran, I tried to catch every episode — which wasn't easy, considering my mother, who knew soul-corrupting sleaze when she saw it, was watching me like a hawk to prevent just that. Yet I sometimes won the deadly game of cat and mouse. Nothing like figuring out why the audience is laughing at a seemingly innocent "darkroom" reference to stretch young male minds!

What's special about this episode is "Bachelor Number One", a/k/a Rodney Alcala. He is, namely, a serial killer who, at the very time this episode was filmed, was in the middle of a cross-country sex murder spree. He's already on death row in California, and has just been indicted for the murders of two women in New York in the 1970s.

I'm no novelist, but if I think this is a metaphor for something.

Kantian Hangover

Over at Crooked Timber, there's a discussion of the German Federal Constitutional Court's case on shooting down hijacked airplanes:

In the UK we are being treated to a rich and enjoyable series of programmes on Justice featuring Michael Sandel . No doubt there will be quibblers, but I think he’s done a great job so far. Last night’s episode discussed Bentham, Kant and Aristotle and, for my money, both utilitarians (in the shape of Peter Singer) and various German Kant-fans came across as slightly unhinged. The moment that most summed this up, however, was discussion of the German Constitutional Court’s Kant-inspired dismissal of a law that would allow the federal authorities to shoot down a hijacked airliner destined to crash into a city with catastrophic loss of life. Judgement here . According to these Kantians, even if the passengers are doomed to die in the next few minutes and shooting-down the plane will save many lives on the ground, to attack the airliner would show a lack of respect for their human diginity, purposiveness, endiness etc. and so is forbidden. For me, that looks like a reductio.

A comment:

[I]t’s at least not at all obvious that Kant would require the decision the German court suggests here. I’ve only skimmed it, but the idea that, in such a case, the government would be “intentionally” killing the innocent passengers is at least not obvious, and I don’t see why Kant would have to accept that, so it seems more the reasoning of the court that’s to blame than Kant here. (I’m not sure that Chris is saying otherwise.) The court seems to suggest that either we are merely doing a crass utilitarian balancing of lives here or else we must say this course of action is completely impermissible, but that’s just wrong (and not something Kant is committed to, I think.)

As an American lawyer, however, what interests me is that the case could be brought at all. I’m not a huge fan of the rules of standing in the US, but I’m fairly sure that here the people who brought the complaint would not have had standing to do so, and in this case that doesn’t seem an unreasonable outcome.

Kafka the “Muscle Jew”

Sarah Wildman describes the short, ingenious workout system that had Mitteleuropeans — including Kafka — gyrating into the 20th century:

At the turn of the last century, Müller's wildly popular cult of physical fitness swept Mitteleuropa, turning parlor-sitting dandies from Copenhagen to Berlin to London into ironmen. Müller's My System was published first in 1904 as little more than a long, bound pamphlet graced with an image of the Greek athlete Apoxyomenos naked and toweling himself. The exercise guide, which promised that just "15 minutes a day" of prescribed* exercise would make "weaklings" into strong men (and women), was ultimately translated into 25 languages, reprinted dozens of times, and sold briskly well into the 20th century.

The Müller system … is something like a precursor to Pilates, it borrows from ballet, and it needs no equipment, other than commitment. It is strict but appealingly accessible. Unlike some of the other popular physical fitness gurus of the time—including the Prussian Eugene Sandow, who is known as the father of bodybuilding—Müller wasn't interested in building muscle mass through dumbbells. And while My System wasn't only aimed at men—in his original pamphlet, he explains that a woman needs to develop a "muscular corset" (that is, core muscles)—Müller, eventually, added to his bookshelf, writing My System for Ladies and My System for Children. There was also the remedial My Breathing System for those for whom, trapped in a Victorian sartorial nightmare, respiration had to be taught.

You can read Muller's book here. It's full of good old Mitteleuropean common sense. I may actually try out the system myself. After all, if it was good enough for Kafka…

What, no Guesses?

I can't believe nobody's even tried to win the latest cultural trivia contest.

Once again, here it is, in all its simplicity: name a work by an extremely famous 20th-century artist that was destroyed by cats.

Yes, there really is one. Come on, people, step up to the plate!

A Post-Labor Society, Part II

Over at his place, Kevin Drum continues exploring the consequences of the destruction of private-sector labor unions in the U.S. (Note to German readers: many of the observations Drum makes may seem obvious and non-controversial to you, whatever your political stripe. Yet, in the U.S., making even these fairly anodyne points places you on the left of the political spectrum!):

I am, fundamentally, old fashioned about this stuff: I think of the world as largely a set of competing power centers. Economics matters, but power matters at least as much, and I think that students of political economy these days spend way too much time on the economy and way too little time on the political. This explains, for example, why I regret the demise of private sector labor unions. It's not because I don't recognize their many pathologies, or even the fact that sometimes they stand in the way of economic efficiency. I'm all in favor of trying to regulate the worst aspects of this. But large corporations have their pathologies too, and those pathologies are far worse because there's no longer any effective countervailing power to fight them. Unions used to provide that power. Today nobody does.

So when Tim Lee writes that "Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining," I just have to shake my head. Competitive for whom? For the upper middle class, labor markets are fairly competitive, but then, they always have been. They never needed collective bargaining to begin with. For everyone else, though, employers have been steadily gaining at their expense for decades. Your average middle class worker has very little real bargaining power anymore, and this isn't due to chance or to fundamental changes in the economy. (You can organize the service sector just as effectively as the manufacturing sector as long as the law gives you the power to organize effectively in the first place.) Rather, it's due to a long series of deliberate policy choices that we've made over the past 40 years.

It's worth noting, by the way, that corporations and the rich know this perfectly well, even if lots of liberals have forgotten it. They know exactly what the biggest threat to their wealth is, and it's not high tax rates. This is why the steady erosion of labor rights has been, by far, their single biggest obsession since the end of World War II. Not taxes, unions. If, right now, you were to offer corporations and the rich a choice between (a) passage of [a law that makes it easier to unionize] or (b) a return to Clinton-era tax rates on high incomes, they wouldn't even blink. If you put a gun to their head and they had to choose between one or the other, they'd pay the higher taxes without a peep. That's because, on the level of raw power, they know how the world works.

Poncho McBowler Likes Beuys

Every month or so, I see this guy somewhere in Duesseldorf:

Cape Man Explains Beuys
He appears to be in his 50s, and always wears this combination of bowler hat, poncho, pants, and shoes. They're always in exactly the same color (red, yellow, green, etc.). Here he is at the recent Joseph Beuys exhibition in Duesseldorf's K20 museum.

I occurs to me that an eccentric like this must be famous in some way. Anyone know who he is?

A Bold Approach

California has decided that the best way to prepare for the challenges of competition and innovation in the 21st century is to gut its public universities:

The $1.4-billion in budget cuts proposed this week for California's public colleges could prompt a new year of protests that decry higher tuition, stagnant employee salaries, and the growing inability of Californians to afford college.

But as a barrier to student access, rising tuition may ultimately pale in comparison with a more fundamental shift: The state's colleges have started to shrink.

California's public-college enrollment declined by 165,000 during the past academic year, even as the number of people trying to get into college grew. Community colleges accounted for most of the decline, the largest in a single year since 1993.

To be fair to current California Governor Jerry Brown, he inherited California's massive budget crisis and is trying to fix it. Yet the trend above is the optimistic scenario:

But that attitude may change if Californians do not approve a $9-billion extension of tax increases that is the foundation of Governor Brown's proposed budget. If the package is voted down or fails to get on the ballot because of opposition from Republican lawmakers—a real possibility—colleges could see budget cuts that make the crises of the past few years look mild.

It's news stories like this that make me call the U.S., in my snarkier moments, the Crumbling Plutocracy™. The U.S. is seeing the progressive, steady hollowing-out of institutions that used to promise a decent standard of living to the middle class — one of the most important of these being state-subsidized university systems offering a quality education at a reasonable fee. The gap between the quality of life you can afford if you make over $150,000 a year and the quality of life you'll be able to afford at $50K a year is steadily growing. If current trends continue, the U.S. will become one of the many countries (you know who you are) in which the public universities are hollow shells, and everyone knows that the only way to get your kids a real education is to send them to private schools.