Quote of the Day: Rabbi Hillel on The Law

From a book I'm currently reading in page proofs, so I can't really reveal the source yet (but I will soon):

The Talmud tells a famous story of a cynical young man who walked up to the great sage and asked him whether he could teach him all of Jewish law while standing on one leg. Hillel raised one foot off the ground and said, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”


Consumerism v. “Producerism” in Bookselling

The all-powerful German train station bookstore lobby

In 2007, the comparative law scholar James Whitman wrote a fine article comparing the United States and Western Europe not on traditional social-welfare/laissez-faire grounds, but rather on the axis of consumerism and producerism. The U.S., he argued, can best be described as a consumerist legal culture, in which the law tends to favor protection of individual consumers (the demand side), rather than producers. Thus, American legal policy tends to favor policies which deliver lower-cost goods, even if they may result in consolidation and uniformity (i.e., Wal-Mart moves in and drives a bunch of local, family-run stores out of business, but delivers unbeatable low prices and convenient to the surrounding region). 

European policy, says Whitman, is characterized by "producerism": 

Despite all the global pressures to embrace economic consumerism, when continental Europeans gaze upon the modern marketplace, they remain much more likely than Americans to perceive rights and interests on the supply side, rather than on the demand side. Thus when it comes to basic labor law, they remain much more ready than Americans to think of workers’ rights as fundamental. When it comes to competition law, they remain more likely than Americans to focus on the rights of competitors to market-share, rather than on the rights of consumers to benefit from competitive prices. When it comes to the law of retail, they remain more likely to find ways to protect small shopkeepers against large retail outfits. I will offer numerous other examples too. In particular, I will argue that old guild and artisanal traditions are far more vigorous in Europe than they are in the United  States. Indeed, the strength of their artisanal traditions has much to do with the successes of continental economies, which are specializing in high-end, luxury, and precision goods. The net result is a continental Europe where artisanal traditions remain strong, where small shopkeepers benefit from important legal protections, and where workers’ rights are far more important than gender or race rights. Europe, I will conclude, is not turning into the United States.

Whitman also suggests things like store-hours regulations, limits on advertising and sales, and extensive and strict regulation of the trades (which means your average neighborhood butcher has had years of carefully-supervised training, and is likely to really know a lot about meat) are also aspects of "producerism." I can recommend the entire article (which you can download from the given link) — Whitman's prose is clear, and there is surprisingly little legalese in it and a lot of acute cross-cultural observation.

I also find that his interesting consumerist/producerist distinction pops up in a lot of my thinking about cross-cultural differences now. For instance, when I read this in the New York Times:

[American] book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s, told me that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”…

Sales of classics and other backlist titles used to be the financial engine of publishers and bookstores as well, allowing them to take chances on new authors. Clearly that model is breaking. Simon & Schuster, which laid off staffers this month, cited backlist sales as a particularly troubled area. Michael Barnard, who owns Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif., not far from Berkeley, was more critical of me. He said that I was taking Ms. Lesser’s work while depriving her of an income, and that I would regret my selfish actions when all the physical stores were gone.

In Germany, by contrast, there is a classic "producerist" regulation which is intended to preserve the viability of small publishers and bookshops, so that there's a "bookstore on every corner." It's called the Buchpreisbindung (g) or the "fixed book-price regulation." It specifies that, for the first 18 months after a book's release, it may not be sold by any retail outlet for less than the price specified by the publisher. The purpose of the regulation is to prevent large retailers from driving small local bookshops out of business, and supporting small or specialty publishers. Of course, it also means less price competition for the ultimate consumer — but that seems to be something most Germans are willing to accept. (Which is not to say that there is not active controversy over the rule anyway).

Germany is a place filled with dozens of tiny, specialty bookstores that seem to be able to coexist with the big chains like Mayersche and Stern-Verlag. Germany also seems to have an enormous number of small publishing houses everywhere. Some of them seem to be almost mom-and-pop operations. There are at least three "publishing houses" (cottages?) within a 15-minute walk of my home. This means that, to a bibliophile like me, that Germany is heaven. It is to book diversity what the Amazon is to biodiversity. If the fixed book-price rule has anything to do with that — and most booksellers seem to think it does — then I'm all in favor of this form of "producerism."

Invasion of the The Melody Snatchers

As introduction to this special multi-cultural socio-legal episode of Sunday music blogging, the YouTube intro composed by "dionnewarpig" should do nicely:

Here is a 1969/70 video of Cindy & Bert doing "Der Hun [sic!!] Von Baskerville"- a brilliant cover of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" apparently with lyrics relating Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hounds of Baskerville. Features a bored looking Cindy and Bert, some bored looking German mod dancers and an extremeley bored looking pekingese.

I would add only that dionnewarpig is obviously not skilled at detecting excitement in Germans (which can sometimes require careful observation). Without further throat-clearing, roll the clip [h/t JR]:

This video raises another interesting question: did Black Sabbath actually get paid for the use of the melody from 'Paranoia' used in this song? If you listen to German Schlager from the 1960s to 1980s, you constantly encounter songs in which the German song's melody and rhythm are exactly the same as some English or American pop hit on the order of Do You Know the Way to San Jose? or Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head. However, the lyrics are generally completely different in German — that is, there's been no attempt to translate the English-language original. Generally, there's no acknowledgement on the record packaging that the melody and rhythm aren't original (although that may be because I am buying ultra-cheap compilations from the grocery store).

This makes me wonder whether German record companies were routinely stealing melodies and rhythms from English and American pop music, sticking new lyrics on them, and reaping fat profits. The German record companies probably thought to themselves: "The sort of Germans who listen to this music are unlikely to care where these somehow-familiar melodies originated. And the likelihood that the Western pop stars and record companies who own the copyright to these melodies and lyrics are going to realize what we've done is probably minimal. How much time does Glen Campbell spend listening to German mass-market Schlager?"

Now, perhaps all of this was done completely legally, either on a song-by-song basis or by some large-scale licensing deal. But if it wasn't, then there might be some lucrative lawsuits out there waiting to be filed. As George Harrison and Rod Stewart found out the hard way, riffs and melodies are copyrightable intellectual property… 

Baden-Baden Baden


Sorry about the light posting of late. I had a nasty flu bug which kept me down and out for quite a while. I hope to get back to semi-regular posting soon. And now, a completely untimely post!

How I love my local library, which has a very large and very strange collection of CDs. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, it's located in Europe, where all sorts of odd cultures nestle cheek by jowl. Second, the library's collections policy is tilted toward the foreign, obscure and avant-garde — presumably on the theory that you can get all the mainstream you want at the record store. The result is lots of well-thumbed but lovingly maintained CDs you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else in the world.

Case in point: Baden Powell's Melancolie. Powell, a Brazilian guitarist, was one of the progenitors of bossa nova, and released pretty electrifying records in Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s. Alas, he fell out of favor in the 1980s. So he did what so many musicians from the New World do when their agent grows distant, or the tax authorities grow not distant enough: he moved to Europe. There, he fell into the warm, patchouli-scented embrace of European lovers of "black music," as they call it over here. As far as I can tell, these Europeans are moved combination of tiersmondisme, nostalgia for the looser times of the 1970s, genuine respect for musical talent, and a longing to vicariously enjoy the relaxed, friendly manners of places like Brazil.

Powell recorded Melancolie in France, with a combination of European and Brazilian musicians. Powell's pleasantly scratchy voice and refined playing make for an fine, mellow album. There are questionable string arrangements. But, as the Allmusic reviewer puts it: "most Brazilian musicians, even the most avant-garde, seem happy with string arrangements that would give you diabetes." Janine de Waleyne contributes an oddly effective vocalise accompaniment that floats in and out of several tracks. Here's one standout track, one of Powell's own compositions called Acalanto das nonas (huge mp3).

But I've saved the best for last. Naturally, Baden Powell — who was indeed named after the founder of the Boy Scouts, and whose name is pronounced 'Bahh-dehn Poh-wehll' — settled in Germany for a time as well. 

In Baden-Baden.

‘Stalwart Blackamoors’ in the Moulin Rouge

      1909 Bal des Quat'z'Arts Poster

Over at Obscene Desserts, the indefatigable JC Wood shares a mind-breaking historical tidbit which washed up on the shores of his Serious Academic Research. I thought I'd join the fun. While I was researching my upcoming book in the Fondren Library in Houston a week or so ago, my attention was distracted by a bright, shiny object having nothing to do with my researches. In my case, it was the book On Bohemia: Code of the Self-Exiled by Cesar and Marigay Grana, an engrossing collection of essays and articles tracing the concept of Bohemia through the past couple of centuries.

On pp. 374-379, we find a piece by one F. Berkeley Smith describing the 1893 Bal des Quat'z'Arts, or "Ball of the Four Arts." Until 1966, this ball was held yearly in Montmarte by students of the Ecole National des Beaux Arts in Paris. The Ball, reportedly the venue of the world's first striptease, started every year at 10, lasted until the next morning, and was pretty goddamned exciting:

A huge float comes along, depicting the stone age and the primitive man, every detail carefully studied from the museums. Another represents the last day of Babylon. One sees a nude captive, her golden hair, and white flesh in contrast with the black velvet litter on which she is bound, being carried by a dozen stalwart blackamoors, followed by camels bearing nude slaves and the spoils of a captured city.

As the baIl continues until daylight, it resembles a bacchanalian fete in the days of the Romans. But all through it, one is impressed by its artistic completeness, its studied splendor, and permissible license, so long as a costume (or the lack of it) produces an artistic result.

Here is the invitation to the 1899 ball, as reported by Smith


Moulin Rouge, 21 April, 1899

Doors open at 10 P.M. and closed at midnight.

The card of admission is absolutely personal, to be taken

by the committee before the opening of the ball.

The committee will be masked, and comrades without their personal card will be refused at the door. The cards must carry the name and quality of the artist, and bear the stamp of his atelier.

Costumes are absolutely necessary. The soldier-the dress suit, black or in color-the monk-the blouse-the domino-kitchen boy-loafer-bicyclist, and other nauseous types, are absolutely prohibited.

Should the weather be bad, comrades are asked to wait in their carriages, as the committee in control cannot, under any pretext, neglect guarding the artistic effect of the ball during any confusion that might ensue.

A great "feed" will take place in the grand hall; the buffet will serve as usual individual suppers and baskets for two persons.

The committee wish especially to bring the attention of their comrades to the question of women, whose cards of admission must be delivered as soon as possible, so as to enlarge their attendance-always insufficient.

Prizes (champagne) will be distributed to the ateliers who may distinguish themselves by the artistic merit and beauty of their female display.

All the women who compete for these prizes will be assembled on the grand staircase before the orchestra. The nude, as always, is PROHIBITED!?!

The question of music at the head of the procession is of the greatest importance, and those comrades who are musical will please give their names to the delegates of the ateliers. Your good-will in this line is asked for-any great worthless capacity in this line will do, as they always play the same tune, "Les Pompiers!"


For exciting reports of the doings surrounding the ball in 1914, visit the New York Times' archives here (pdf). Brassai pictures of ballgoers here.