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The New York Times Profiles Cindy aus Marzahn

The New York Time profiles Ilka Bessin, the obese former welfare recipient from East Germany who created a stage persona called 'Cindy aus Marzahn' and has parlayed it into massive success. 'Cindy', by the way, is a typical lower-class German name, as you can tell from its American provenance. Other names that instantly evoke the German (not Turkish) Lumpenproletariat are Kevin, Dakota, Darryl, Montana, Jasmin, and a few others. Although lots of these stereotypes are increasingly outdated, since I've had plenty of high-achieving Jasmins and Kevins in my classes. Here's a bit of the profile: 

Out of the crucible of humiliation emerged Cindy, crass and cagey, driven by appetites. She hides a bratwurst in a banana peel and asks the audience for chocolate, then eats what they throw onstage. “I have Alzheimer’s bulimia,” Cindy likes to say, stomach bulging under her pink sweatshirt, tiara perched atop her wig. “I eat everything in sight and then forget to throw up.”

Critics call her act offensive, lowbrow and worse, mixing high-minded attacks on her with patronizing depictions of her supposedly benighted fans. Those fans answer by buying her concert videos and turning out to her shows in droves, where they scream and applaud like mad, many wearing their own tiaras and pink sweatshirts emblazoned with the words “Alzheimer’s bulimia” on the front.

Cindy regales them with tales of her time as a member of the Socialist Children’s Television Ballet or her efforts to get adopted by Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. Her performances are marathons with musical numbers. Fans often bring her presents and handmade cards. She is a star but also a hero, one of them, one who made it.

“I win,” Cindy sings in one of her songs, “although I’m not a winner.”

I've watched her, and Cindy is actually pretty funny. She knows that some of the people watching her show are proper bourgeois urbanites who are laughing at not with, but she doesn't give a flying fuck. In fact she gives as good as she gets, mocking organic food and viola lessons and hybrid cars and multi-kulti tolerance and other shibboleths of the educated urban bourgeoisie. It's one of the things I find honest and refreshing about German culture: everyone knows that classes exist and always will, and that they're always going to be in conflict. Yet merely acknowledging that fact doesn't doom society to centrifugal self-destruction. This means you can speak openly, even vulgarly about social classes without employing all the enervating euphemisms Americans often resort to (example here).

By the way, the fact that Cindy aus Marzahn was profiled in the New York Times was big news in Germany. It was all over the airport news monitors!

'Luxury Problems' is a Masterpiece

On the strength of David Pescovitz's recommendation at BoingBoing, I downloaded (legally, I might add) UK techno-dub guru Andy Stott's new album, Luxury Problems. One reason it caught my interest is because the title's a literal translation of a great German word, Luxusproblem. But the album itself is shockingly fantastic. RA reviews it:

Luxury Problems has all the hallmarks of its two predecessors, namely the drab atmosphere and sluggish rhythms. But it also has more conventional beauty than those records, thanks in part to fantastic vocals from his old piano teacher, Alison Skidmore. It's tempting to think of her as the missing ingredient in Stott's reinvented sound; in equal parts mournful and seductive, sometimes even operatic, she gives his music a sexy and haunting feel that makes you think of Portishead or Massive Attack. Stott's music, in all of its exquisite gloom, has long stood up on its own, but it still benefits enormously from this bold addition.

I've now listened to it several times on my Sennheiser 180 wireless headphones, and I'm more impressed each time. Stott's tracks have a typical trip-hoppy structure, with a slow intro that's gradually embellished with more and more beats, a climax, and then a ghostly outro. But the samples and loops are fascinating and original, and the contrast of Alison Skidmore's ethereal voice (overdubbed, transposed, and manipulated in a thousand other ways) with the pulsing, menacing, often-danceable beats is, well, nothing short of mystical. Here's a video for 'Numb' (but note that to really enjoy this, you've got to play it loud on a good stereo or headphones).

Kyrghyz Eyes

Susan Messer writes about The Magic Mountain:

One of the unforgettable details of the novel was the obsession of Hans Castorp (the main character) with the elusive Clavdia Chauchat, who Mann describes repeatedly as having Kyrgyz eyes. This is, indeed, one of her defining features. "Kyrgyz eyes" were also a feature of an earlier breathless obsession in Castorp's life--a young boy who had many years before loaned young Hans a pencil on the school playground. So Mann echoes these eyes and these obsessions (even the pencil) throughout the novel.

I also wondered exactly what Mann meant by Kyrgyz eyes (Kirgisenaugen). Messer provides us with this photo of actual Kyrgyznauts, or whatever one calls people from Kyrghyzstan:

Kyrghiz eyes
Cute and wholesome. But I prefer this version, courtesy of St. Petersburg-based photographer Daniil Kontorovich aka Tertius Alio:


If you ask me, she's got Kyrghyz-everything.

Gun Deaths in Germany and the U.S.

Gun homicidesHere are the goods on gun deaths in the U.S. and Germany. Germany is a surprisingly well-armed society -- but oddly enough, not as well-armed as France. But because of sensible regulations, Germany's rate of firearms homicide is 17 times lower than the USA's.

And yet:

The national homicide rate for 2011 was 4.8 per 100,000 citizens — less than half of what it was in the early years of the Great Depression, when it peaked before falling precipitously before World War II. The peak in modern times of 10.2 was in 1980, as recorded by national criminal statistics.

“We’re at as low a place as we’ve been in the past 100 years,” says Randolph Roth, professor of history at Ohio State University and author of this year’s “American Homicide,” a landmark study of the history of killing in the United States. “The rate oscillates between about 5 and 9 [per 100,000], sometimes a little higher or lower, and we’re right at the bottom end of that oscillation.”

Last year’s rate was the lowest of any year since 1963, when the rate was 4.6, according to the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Don’t relax quite yet: Americans still kill one another at a much higher rate than do citizens of other wealthy nations.

“By international standards, we never really get to ‘low,’ ” Roth says.

How Many Bullets Can Your Disney Princess Absorb?

Would You Send Your Child to School With Body Armor?

Hammel's law: Sooner or later, every American gun massacre will give rise to commercial exploitation and unintentional self-parody. Or, in this case, both:

Amendment II is a company that makes lightweight body armor for obviously, military and police. But six months ago, in reaction to the flux of school shootings we've needlessly seen in this country, they've moved into a new area of the market—Avengers- and Disney Princess- themed backpacks for young kids and a SwissGear for teens. The innocent-looking $300 knapsacks are fitted with the company's carbon nanotubes to fend off bullets. And sales are at an all-time high. While Amendment II won't give out specifics, since the horrible tragedy in Newtown, it's basically sold three times what usually does in a month in less than a week.

And from a libertarian political commentator Megan McArdle:

I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

As frequent commentator Martin might say, how can you be too paranoid when you never know when THEY might strike again?

The New Brother Theodore DVD is Out

I blogged before about To My Great Chagrin, the documentary about Brother Theodore, scion of a wealthy Jewish Düsseldorf family who was chased out of Germany by the Nazis, landed in the U.S., and started a career as the strangest, darkest, absurdest stand-up 'comedian' you're ever likely to see. He called his bit 'stand-up tragedy.'

I've now got news that the producer, Jeff Sumerel, is offering a new, enhanced DVD with interviews with Woody Allen, Eric Bogosian, and many others. You can -- and should -- order it here.

Hasty Overreactions: The Good and Bad Kind

A few simple observations to help you understand American politics.

First, assume a spectacular crime.

Next, assume an opportunistic politician. Let's call him Stan.

When Stan responds to this crime by introducing a bill kick-punching suspects and/or criminals -- say by expanding the death penalty, abolishing the insanity defense, broadening police powers, mandating life without parole, or lowering the age of criminal responsibility -- this is known as responsive democratic action.

When Stan responds to this crime by introducing a bill opposed by powerful lobbies -- say a bill imposing higher penalties for financial mismanagement, or stricter gun-control laws -- this is called exploiting a tragedy for political gain, rushing to judgment before all the facts are in, and/or irresponsible populism.

I hope that helps!

Guns Kill More Efficiently than Anything Else

Two news stories from yesterday: In China, a man using a knife attacked schoolchildren. 22 were injured, and none died. Another man in the USA attacked schoolchildren using Sig Sauer and Glock semi-automatic pistols, precision instruments designed to efficiently kill humans. There were almost no survivors. Apparently, every single child he targeted was killed on the scene. The local hospital turned away nurses who had come in to help, since there was no more help to give.

Even for a determined murderer, killing someone with a knife is difficult. You'll generally need to hit them several times, and if you don't hit a major artery, they are likely to survive, especially with modern medical treatment. Plus, they will defend themselves, if they're conscious. Killing someone with a bomb is also a challenge -- as recent failed bombings both in the US and in Germany (g) show, it's very hard to competently construct a large bomb.

A semi-automatic pistol is a different matter entirely. Standing well away from your victim, you can launch projectiles at 1,150 feet per second at their head and chest, pumping bullet after bullet into them until you're sure they're dead. The whole process takes seconds. There's almost nothing they can do to defend themselves. You can stay a comfortable distance away from your victims. Plus, you can pick them out specifically and target only the ones you want to kill. The gun that gives you this power is light and easily-concealed.

This is why most societies tightly regulate semi-automatic handguns. There's nothing like them for the combination of easy concealment and potent lethality. There will always be the occasional extremely rare incident in which one person decides to attack a large number of others at once, but only if he uses a semi-automatic weapon is the death toll likely to be high.

This latest American massacre will likely spur more debate about gun control in the US, but gun-control opponents there will rightly point out that tighter regulations probably won't achieve much. The genie of portable, effective killing machines is out of the bottle: the US is awash in 310 million non-military privately-held firearms, millions of which are semi-automatic handguns. There's nothing you can do to take them out of circulation -- at least nothing that is remotely politically feasible. The US will be living with this policy disaster for decades, if not centuries.

(Graph source here)