July 28, 2019

I have a few myself

July 27, 2019

Club 8+

In the second episode of the fourth series of The IT Crowd, a man known only as Prime confronts Morris Moss after his success on the British game show Countdown, and gives him a card:

This allows Moss entry to Club 8+, where the Octochamps meet, and when things get ugly, engage in unregulated sessions of "Street Countdown" that are pretty much like regular Countdown.

I have two observations:

  • This is a nearly perfect episode of this television show
  • I kind of like the graphics on that card

Some enterprising soul has put that logo on a t-shirt, which is available here.  You can also get it on a poster or lucite block for your desk, but that seems a bit extreme.

"The Final Countdown" - (link)

July 26, 2019

I don't wish to alarm you, but...

The San Francisco Giants, a forgotten team that spent two months of this season in last place, have perked up since the All-Star break.  And by perked up, I mean they have played seventeen games and lost just three, in the process becoming the hottest team in baseball and leaping into playoff contention.

They are doing this in their usual way, with pitching, defense, and even a base hit now and then.  They specialize in one run games and extra inning affairs, including six of their last ten - all of which they won.  This is...unusual.

It feels like magic, but the sober-minded analyst understands that these things even out.  You can't play .700 baseball in one run games over a whole season...but so far they have.  You can't consistently dominate in extra innings over a whole season...but so far they have.

Throw out the analytics: for this stuff you need astrologers, mystics, interpretive dancers.  Logic has left the building.

They were in San Diego tonight, score 1-1 in the 11th.  Pablo Sandoval, old and washed up, batting from his weak right side, drilled a home run...

...which was caught by a man in a Willie Mays jersey holding a baby...

...and the Giants won again. 

There is one thing we say to the gods of analytics:  "not today."

Giants fan catches Pablo Sandoval's game-winning homer while holding a baby - (link)

July 23, 2019

Koblenz is an interesting place

Founded by Drusus, ruled by Elvis...


July 22, 2019

I have no questions

July 20, 2019

Bill Mauldin Post War Cartoons of Terrible Relevance

Willie and Joe at home.

Looking for St. Johan (2): Stedelijk to Olympisch Stadion

Sunday morning I had no interest in Johan Cruyff, or walking, so I went down to Museumplein looking for trouble, and breakfast.  Breakfast first:

Hello Rijksmuseum my old friend

Clambering a few rungs up Maslow's ladder, it occurred to me that I could go look at some modern art.  Across the way there's the Stedelijk, the museum for which the term "wildly uneven" was invented.  The exhibits were, as usual, very interesting.  There was Walid Raad, a brilliant Lebanese-American artist who (among many other things) picked up bullets in Beirut for decades and made art from them.

Roughly contemporary with our group (b. 1965) he's worth studying up.  A good start is here.

Impact was here, and here, and here...and here...colors denote country of bullet manufacture

There was Jacqueline De Jong's little pinball machine workshop, and some drawings they said they found in the basement on the back of other pieces, attributed to the late Marwan Kassab-Bachi but they're not 100% certain, all very mysterious:

And then, a brief, brutal encounter with Maria Lassnig.


Maria Lassnig was interested in many things, but generally quite consistent in her presentation:  she punches you in the face, and then while you are blurting out a request that she explain herself she punches you again, then punches you again as a courtesy.  My usual reaction to all things Lassnig is going into what I like to call "The Full Baxter":

Long ago I read something about a guy at the Whitney rejecting something because it wasn't "tough enough."  Well, Mister Whitney guy, IS THIS TOUGH ENOUGH FOR YOU?

Could we go back and look at "The Night Watch" again?  NO.

If you're bored and looking for something to do this evening, give me 1,500 words on the viewer's confrontation with the staring nude woman in art.  Please include Manet's Olympia in your answer.

I want to make something clear.  I make fun of stuff, but I am not making fun of Lassnig (who passed in 2014).  The work is legit, and I know it is legit.  I am making fun of my own confused response to it, because making fun of my own confused response is basically my go-to algorithm.  For a good discussion of her work, see The Guardian's "Maria Lassnig: Under the skin" (link).

So, I thought...maybe that's enough Maria for today.  Maybe I should go lie down.  But, inexplicably, I lingered a little, and found myself in yet another confrontation.  There is another figure nearby, nude except for socks and cleats, looking you in the eye - bouncing a soccer ball off her chest.

"I'm sorry to interrupt."
"I'm kind of busy here."
"I came here to quit thinking about soccer, maybe think about something important instead."
"Maybe you should have a look at the information card."
"Thank you, maybe I will."


Johan Cruyff said: "it’s like everything in football – and life. You need to look, you need to think, you need to move, you need to find space, you need to help others. It’s very simple in the end."

And then he added, "maybe it's time you got your ass down to Olympic Stadium."


Outside, on the grass at Museumplein, an age and racially diverse, but - yes - male dominated, football game.

We go left here.

We're in central Amsterdam, so there's basically a canal and a postcard view every block or so:

More beautiful, intimate neighborhoods, personable and lived in.  After the war the Modernists could hardly wait to kill this off, and with half of Europe in ruins they had their chance.  The Bijlmermeer was the purest large-scale expression of Modernist orthodoxy, and the slow and painful failure of the master plan reinforced in many Netherlanders the sense that this is how one should live.

Even the die-hards - the "Bijlmermeer Believers" as they came to be called - generally came to acknowledge the arrogance of the Modernists, the idea that if we could just rid of of all of these constraints and start with a clean sheet of paper, we could build a paradise in steel and concrete.  Most importantly, everyone began to understand a little better that the city is not a machine.

In 1928 the Olympics came to Amsterdam, and the city opened its arms, knocked down some old buildings, and put up lasting monuments to the event:

As you approach the stadium the neighborhood changes and falls into a larger scale and more modern but (I think) pre-WW2 vernacular.

At the edge of this you reach a couple of 80s and 90s office buildings and malls, and then:  the brick  early Modern edifice that is Olympisch Stadion, restored in 1996 to its original glory (Wikipedia article here):

Shot by someone else on a nicer day
It's Sunday, so no, you can't go in.

But the grounds are interesting.  There are the Nazi oak trees:

A nearby plaque explains that gold medalists at the 1936 Berlin Olympics got oak trees - a symbol of National Socialism.  These two, won by Dutch swimmers, were planted here, and have thrived.

I wondered about the discussion of these trees at the Planning Association meeting.
  • "They are Nazi trees!"
  • "They're oak trees, and the Nazis are gone.  It's not the trees' fault the Nazis liked them."
  • "They're our trees, we won them fair and square.  Should we melt down the medals too?"
  • "Well maybe we should put up a plaque..."
Continuing, on our left, one of the many Cruyff courts that dot Amsterdam and other parts of the world.  Cruyff's foundation continues to build these and has its offices near here.

Translation of Cruyff's 14 rules is here.  Some are stereotypical, not much different from, say, John Wooden's Pyramid of Success.  But I find one particularly noteworthy:  

Initiative - Dare to Try Something New

"Think for yourself and ask me lots of questions" said no NFL coach ever.  Where their competitors say "do as I say," Cruyff's coaching disciples encourage players to ask why, and to figure things out themselves.  They have permission.  

I'm not saying Dutch soccer is a commune - this clearly varies significantly depending on your coach.  Coaches in the tradition of Van Gaal - winner of a Dutch 2017 Lifetime Achievement award - are probably a little less interested in players that talk back than Cruyff would have been.  David Winner explains:
Cruyff and Van Gaal both loved the spatially sophisticated attacking football on which [Ajax’s] reputation rests but there were crucial differences... Van Gaal put his faith more in systems and rigid application of tactics. Cruyff believed in giving the most talented players freedom within a looser tactical structure.

That is Cruyff's brand, it's who he was, and my last stop is a monument to that individualism.  It has been at Olympic Stadium since 1978:

That's Cruyff and Berti Vogts, the brilliant German defender, in the World Cup Final, 1974.  Early in the match - which the Dutch went on to lose - Cruyff burst into the German defense on an amazing solo run, and got fouled in the penalty area (here, at 0:15).  Neeskins converted the penalty kick, and the Dutch went ahead 1-0.

That moment was the high point of...something.  But it's hard to say exactly what:
  • It was not the end of Dutch soccer, since they went to the World Cup Final again in 1978 and 2010 (losing each time).  
  • It was not the end of Totaalvoetbal since Barcelona went on to employ the system with great success.  
  • It was not the end of Cruyff the player, since he hadn't even gotten to Barcelona yet.

Perhaps it would be fair to say it was the high point of the Dutch football aesthetic.  Dutch football would continue to be successful, but it would never be this beautiful, nor its success seem so assured.  And if we must pick a career peak for Cruyff the player, this moment is as good as any.

I have mentioned this before, but a young child named Emilio Butragueño watched this run intently.  Interviewed in a documentary he said:
It was so magical...he slows and speeds up twice within 45 meters, enough to completely disorient his opponent...  This play is permanently etched in my mind.  It's not that it changed my life, but with this Cruyff gave me insight into what soccer really was...  Football is an expression of what you have in you.  You go out onto the field to show who you are, to display your personality.  And in some way or other...art is able to uplift the viewer's soul.

A few steps away, across a little bridge there is the Olympic Hotel.  It is reasonably priced and has a restaurant with coffee, snacks, and a pleasant view.

I thought of something from David Winner's 2010 book that feels more true with each passing year:
Did you ever see the beautiful little haiku-like poem Xander van der Drift wrote...? He wrote it in 1999, and I agree with it very much. He meant Cruyff is our giant, and it will hit us one day. It goes: 
“Question of the 21st Century: where were you when Johan Cruyff died?"

Further reading:
  • "Game Changer - The Hidden History of Johan Cruijff’s Amsterdam" (link)
  • Brilliant Orange:  The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (link)

July 19, 2019

Looking for St. Johan (1): From The Bijlmermeer to De Meer

In the heart of the Biljmer is the stadium they used to call Ajax Arena, shown here in context:

Source:  Wikipedia

It has a new name now:
Source: ANP

When Johan Cruyff (anglicized spelling) passed in 2016, I wondered how the Dutch would manage his memory.  Cruyff was still alive went I first visited the arena's museum, and he was one of many featured players, not given special treatment.

Can you really do that to Mozart?  Well, they did.  But now...as I walked past this weekend, I saw a banner:

It looks like now he has been fast-tracked for immortality.  I've wandered around Amsterdam a fair bit over the years, and I've never seen anything like this.  I feel for the young Albanian who might ask "is this your dictator?" and they say no, he was just a really good forward.

And that's not all:  statues are going up.  In Amsterdam a collective effort (of course) raised 75,000 Euros to put one here.  They are putting one up in Barcelona as well, and Barcelona are building a new stadium for their youth team, and guess whose name is going on that.

Johan, three years after you left, you've arrived.

But...what the hell?  Cruyff only ever registered on my consciousness in 2014, and my dominant thought then was - "why doesn't everyone in the world know about this guy?"  Well, if the Dutch and Catalans have their way, now everyone will.

One thing that has happened since his death has been the rise of nationalism, extremism, fascism - all the shitty -isms.  Maybe this brings him up in people's consciousness because Johan was having none of that.


- Was Dutch.
- Said he'd never play for Madrid because of the association with Franco.
- Came from East Amsterdam, played for "Jewish" Ajax, had Jewish relatives, and visited the Holocaust Memorial in Israel.

All statements about Cruyff are contestable and have been contested, but people who argue about this aspect are full of shit.  Let me give you the full flavor of it, from The Jewish Chronicle piece linked above:
Frits Barend, a Jewish sports journalist who was a friend of Cruyff's for 48 years, was not yet born when his brother and parents had to flee their home during the German invasion in 1940. 
They were hidden by a local farmer called Frits, whom he was named after. Four decades later, with Cruyff due to attend a Netherlands game 15 miles from the farm, Barend saw a way to repay his namesake.
"I took the man who saved our lives - an old, sick farmer who could only wear wooden shoes because his feet hurt - to see Johan. 
"And I said to Johan: 'This is the guy I told you about, who gave shelter to my family in the war,' and he said: 'Oh, of course - you are the guy who saved the lives of Frits's family. I'm proud of you. How nice to meet you."' 
"While others laughed at the old man for wearing wooden shoes, Johan talked to him for five minutes. The farmer died three months later but, before that, he could tell his friends: 'I met Johan Cruyff. He's a good guy.'" 

So I went out to find St. Johan.  His statue will be at the Arena, but his soul - his soul has to be at De Meer.  You see, Cruyff never played in the place that now bears his name, it went up long after he retired.  His home pitch - literally - was De Meer, a small grounds in East Amsterdam where Ajax played most of its matches, a few blocks from where he lived and went to school.

So let's walk over there.  My hotel is at the Arena, and there's a big pedestrian mall there, drably modernist but decorated with trees and flowers (more on this: 'When Modern Was Green'), and full of small but good restaurants.  Guys on electric scooters zip by, delivering food to folks in the nearby apartment buildings.

This whole section of Amsterdam is built on early modernist principles, which means pedestrians get the ground level while car traffic runs a level above.  This keeps vehicle noise and exhaust away from the daily life of the neighborhood.  We turn left and there at the end of the block, steps go up:

Time to level up:

This is the transit level.  Cars, bus stops, and a few store fronts, but not many.

Crossing the street and going back down we're in a new neighborhood.  Very basic structures.

Andre Sakharov Street.  Fleerde is the neighborhood - I think they knocked down a 1970-vintage high rise near here in the early 90s and replaced it with some lower profile buildings.  These might be some of those - a lot of this part of Amsterdam has been de-built:

A little further down the road, and some nicer buildings.  As the country developed after the war the Dutch climbed up the hierarchy of needs, gradually returning to their longtime aesthetic preoccupation structure and land/waterscape.  They are good at this:

Across the bridge, a pedestrian path up to a somewhat isolated group of modernist buildings.

I hear a loud family argument from somewhere, a pretty girl walking her dog gives a wave.  Everyone I see is black - I'm guessing Surinamese.  When Surinam declared its independence in the 1970s there was a wave of immigration to The Netherlands, and many black and mixed race families ended up in this part of town.

Out back, a little bit of Johan - a game of football.  

One problem with multi-level modernism is that the separation of humans from traffic is not always desirable.  Here you have a crossing that might be safer at night on the same level as the street.  So they are planning to redesign some areas to remedy this.

Crossing through, a park strip shields high-volume highways on the left, and the footpath follows a canal to the right.

Old bridge fallen down.  You see cranes everywhere in Amsterdam now.  The world is awash in capital looking for a home, the British are taking themselves out of the game, and friendly global Amsterdam is in full expansion/renovation mode.

Cool: grey heron, just hanging out.

Past a school, and now a more ambitious project, a block of flats with balconies.  Neighbors leaning out and talking to each other.  A courtyard out front where people are gathered talking.  An example of what Dwell magazine has called 'Nice Modernism'.

Down the street a couple of bridges over canals.

Nice modernism!

And finally, we cross the Johan Cruyff bridge, and arrive at De Meer, which looks suspiciously like a residential neighborhood:

The old grounds was demolished in 1998 and replaced with nice apartment buildings.  Streets are named after other soccer venues (although the 'Wembley' sign has been unaccountably defaced...on both sides).

The bridges are named for Ajax legends of old, like "Piet Keizerbrug".  As every schoolchild knows, Piet Keizer was "widely considered one of the greatest players in Dutch football history. Dutch writer Nico Scheepmaker once said: 'Cruyff is the best, but Keizer is the better one.'" (Wikipedia)

Or "Sjaak Swartbrug", named for the man they call "Mr. Ajax".  Swart is Jewish, spent his childhood hiding from the Germans, was one of the 25% of Dutch Jews who survived the war.  He holds the record for most matches played for Ajax, over six hundred.

Sjaak Swart has to be the best sidekick name ever, even better when covered with mud (St. Johan to the right):

Somewhere around here there is another one of those giant pictures of Cruyff, but no time to find it - it is starting to rain and I have no umbrella.  I move on briskly, out to a pastoral lane through an adjacent park...

...then up a level as fast as I can.  As the rain arrives I see nothing but bleak, faceless modernism,

and, fortunately, Maslow Cafe at the first door.  They have soup, samosas, cheese sandwiches, cappuccino, and a girl at the cash register with a pretty smile.  The room is warm and people are talking, the tables filling up as we damp stragglers come in.