Neanderthal Descent and Rock-Crusher

Last weekend I took my GoPro on this fantastic mountain-bike tour (g) through the Neander Valley and nearby areas. The first bit is a fun descent down a hillside road (pardon the stabilizer artifacts, still working on the technology), the second is a panning shot of a 'rock-crusher'. Part of the bike tour goes through Grube 7 (g) (Quarry 7), a former chalk-quarry pit that was closed down in 1964 and allowed to return to nature. There are a few reminders of its former purpose, though, including this huge platform, which was the above-ground portion of a rock crusher, now left to be slowly reclaimed by ivy and mosses. 


A Stylish Final

Brian Phillips on why you should want Spain to beat Holland:

Compared with other major sports, soccer can easily become chaotic and incoherent. This is one reason unconverted fans find it boring: Watch a random passage of play, and you're likely to see players booting the ball out of bounds or frantically kicking it nowhere in particular, so that what ensues looks as much like an accident as a series of intentional actions. Teams that play it safe tend to go along with this entropic tendency, disrupting their opponents' play, creating long periods of stalemate, then haphazardly smashing the ball toward their own strikers in the hope of a lucky bounce. The teams that become beloved, on the other hand—Leo Messi's FC Barcelona, Pelé's Brazil, and Cruyff's Holland—are the ones that bring order or clarity to the game, so that the randomness and dullness fade out and the play assumes the shape of perceptible intention.

Great teams in other sports beat their opponents. Great teams in soccer beat both their opponents and the game. That sounds like a critique of soccer unless you've seen for yourself what a marvelous thing this can be.

Playing stylishly might not be more important than winning. But teams that play stylishly make the game worth watching, and thus assume an importance that can't be reflected by wins and losses.

During the era of [Dutch legend Johan] Cruyff and total football, the Dutch played as stylishly as anyone in the world. Over the last few seasons, that mantle belongs not to Holland but to Spain. Spain's tiki-taka soccer—inexorable passing, patient build-up play, constant pressing on defense—isn't much like total football, though it can also be traced back to Cruyff, who spent eight years as the manager of Barcelona. Nevertheless, Spain's style is a similarly coherent, and similarly beautiful, approach to the game. And that's why I hope Spain will win the World Cup on Sunday. It's not because I don't like Holland; it's because I like the history of Holland so much.


Give Referees iPhones II

Yesterday it was good to see the Americans defeated by the team that played better (Ghana) and, for once, not have to worry about whether some referee would make a mistake that clouded the result.

Not so today in the wonderful England-Germany match. There was, of course, another howling, humiliating mistake, this time one that cost England a goal. I'm not sure whether being awarded the goal would have changed the outcome of the game (too many counterfactual hypotheticals), but can you imagine the outcry if Germany had won 2-1, simply because of a referee's mistake?

Arguments can go either way, but what has made the case for electronic review irrefutable is experience. Defending the prerogative of referees to make irreversible screwed-up calls that change game outcomes just can't survive what we've seen as spectators over the past couple of weeks. The Politburo may claim that production targets are being met, but we've just toured the collective farms, and we're gonna believe our lyin' eyes.

Naturally, there will still be holdouts. I'm going to strap on my armchair sociologists' helmet, and venture a few observations. Those who will doggedly defend referees' right to make irreversible game-changing screw-ups without accountability will come disproportionately from Catholic countries. Why Catholic? Two reasons. First, Catholicism is well known as the non-perfectionist's religion -- why else was the ingenious institution of the confessional invented? Second, Catholics are at least formally expected to respect the doctrine of infallibility. Do I need to draw you a diagram?

I'd also be willing to bet it's the countries presently or formerly governed by absolutist monarchs that will hold out for the referee's right to err. After all, they're used to showing deference to mediocrity. Another drawback, from this perspective, is that electronic review would seriously hinder referees' ability to throw matches in return for cash or favors. Where's the fun in that?


In Need of 'Respect, Team Spirit, Pride, and Dignity' (Again).

I love France, despite the hideous character flaws of its youth. But I have to agree with French education minister Luc Chatel, who sums it up with brutal frankness:

"For me, as a supporter of the team, I'm obviously very disappointed. As a citizen I'm truly indignant by what has gone on, and as minister for education I am terribly angry," Luc Chatel told Canal Plus television.

Chatel said the squad had lacked "respect, team spirit, pride and enough dignity to wear the shirt of any club, from the smallest local side to that of the French national team."

A quotation from Raymond Aron about another famous French collapse may be worth repeating: "I lived through the thirties in the despair of French decline.... In essence, France no longer existed. It existed only in the hatred of the French for one another."


Give Referees iPhones

I've watched several World Cup matches now that were influenced -- often literally determined -- by obviously wrong referee calls. Not least the U.S.'s victory over Slovenia.

Why do we continue to indulge the Luddite fantasy that a referee running around amidst a throng of sweating, screaming players always has the best vantage point to make the proper call? Probably half the fans have in their pockets the technology to instantly review plays from 10 different angles, in slow motion or fast, with sound or without, on a small, portable, ultra-vivid screen.

But not the referee.

When the referee makes an obviously screwed-up call, this fact becomes evident to hundreds of millions of people around the world within 20 seconds or so. Yet the call will stand, even to the point of robbing a deserving team of a victory. I don't see how this benefits anybody. Those who defend this state of affairs generally resort to mindless blather about tradition or the 'human element' or the supposedly mystical powers of discernment possessed only by the referee. Bullshit. Why should we tolerate human error in soccer referees any more than we tolerate it in, say, airline pilots or neurosurgeons?

I say give the refs iPhones, or something equivalent, with the possibility to instantly review plays. When they make a controversial call, there's a 20-second review period, after which the ref can either confirm or revise the call. Wouldn't slow down the game much, if at all, since there's always at least 20 seconds of milling about and gesticulating after any controversial call anyway. And the sorry spectacle of matches being screwed up by bad calls would become much rarer.

To sweeten the deal, let the refs keep the iPhones!


Protocol #74: Ideas for the Taking

Herewith:

  • The national anthems of many South American countries seem to have been composed by Gilbert & Sullivan.
  • While visiting Berlin with a friend lately, she suggested that one way to reduce the amount of dog shit on the streets would be to offer a deposit on it, just like with used glass bottles (h/t JR).*
  • Yesterday, I met a former member of a band called the Drellas. 'Drella' -- a combination of Dracula and Cinderella -- was the nickname Loud Reed gave to Andy Warhol. But wouldn't 'Cinderacula' have been even better?
  • Idea for an edifying TV series, 1: 'Unplayable'. Each episode features a work of classical music that was originally deemed unplayable. Explains who thought it was unplayable and why, why it was actually beyond the capacities of the performers when it was written, and why it isn't now.
  • Idea for an edifying TV series, 2: 'Bad Laws': An X-part series featuring the nastiest laws ever passed. The Nuremburg racial laws, England's Bloody Code, Jim Crow laws, etc. Who proposed them, what was the vote by which they were approved, what were the consequences, how were they got rid of.

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