Short answer: No. Longer answer: Our taxi driver at the Amsterdam train station on Thursday was of uncertain nationality. He seemed to be originally Turkish or Kurdish, but described himself as Belgian from Wallonia, and switched from speaking Dutch with us to speaking French as though it were a gesture of intimacy, as though we were switching into his native language; but he spoke with an accent, and when he got a call on his mobile phone, he had a short conversation with a friend in what sounded like either Arabic or Kurdish. My wife thought he might be a Kurdish refugee, and there was something in his manner that seemed that way. Anyway, the conversation touched on soccer and the upcoming Brazil match, and he said: “Wij gaan winnen dit jaar. Zij spelen niet goed, maar zij spelen efficient.” We’re going to win this year. They’re not playing well, but they’re playing efficiently. He meant the Dutch team. And it was clearly a way of asserting his permanent membership in Dutch society, in much the way that sport serves to cement the American-ness of first-generation immigrants in the US.
I watched the match at the community-center pub in Tuincentrum Holland’s Glorie, across the road from the friend’s houseboat where we’re staying. A tuincentrum is a community garden, and their presence is a icon and artifact of Dutch egalitarian socialist urban planning in the period before the neo-liberal turn of the 1990s. They’re close in to urban areas, and the plots are large enough to construct a little shed, so apartment dwellers can have some garden space in a separate location. Holland’s Glorie has a playground, a soccer field, and a little shop and community center with a pub, and they were showing the match on a large screen in the pub. At the end of the first half, with Holland down 1-0 and playing lethargically, people had a characteristically sour Dutch self-critical attitude. I didn’t manage to film the ecstatic reaction when the Dutch scored their goals, but here’s how it looked as the match drew to a close.
Down on the River Amstel where we’re staying, people were stripping naked, climbing onto other people’s houseboats and jumping into the river.
Today in his blog at the NRC Handelsblad, Steven de Jong asks: “Can the World Cup fix our banged-up country?” Since the last time the Netherlands reached the quarterfinals in 1998, de Jong writes, the country has seen crisis after crisis, with the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, the constantly collapsing and reforming Christian Democratic governments of the past decade, and so forth. He cites sportscolumnist Auke Kok‘s linking of conservative politics to conservative soccer in mid-June: “A few weeks after the electoral victory of [far-right politician] Geert Wilders [who didn't actually win but scored unprecedentedly well], Orange is playing a game that stands miles apart from the progressive bravura with which whole generations grew up.” He refers to historian Coos Huijsen’s book “The Myth of Orange” and the argument that abstract concepts such as democracy and freedom are insufficient to form a polity, that soccer supplies the “emotional dimension that gives sense and meaning to membership in a society.”
What de Jong doesn’t specifically address is the ethnic-religious tension that has driven Dutch politics over the past decade, and whether the success of the national soccer team can do anything on that score. My sense is that this is unlikely, but I would be curious to know more about how strongly ethnic Moroccans and Turks, apart from my taxi driver, are rooting for Holland to win. I don’t know how important this is, but one of the ways in which sport has classically served as an integration machine is by promoting ethnic-minority stars (think Zinovine Zidane in France, or in the US Michael Jordan or for that matter Joe DiMaggio); and the Dutch team is strikingly white. In the previous generation of Dutch greats, the teams that won the European Championship in the late ’80s, you had the half-Surinamese star Ruud Gullit. Today the top two strikers are Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder.
All of this is a bit tongue in cheek; sports don’t really have much influence on politics, and for the moment politics in the Netherlands is preoccupied more with budget deficits than with racial or religious issues. But I do share a bit of Aude Kok’s concern that a victory for Orange at this moment will be felt as a victory for a very conservative, nostalgic, “autochtoon” vision of Orange that Dutch society really needs to move beyond.
Last week I said I didn’t understand why right-wing anti-tax terrorist Joe Stack’s daughter would flee America’s oppressive socialist tax regime and move to…Norway, an actual socialist market economy that has significantly higher taxes than the US.
But after reading David Brooks’s rewritten encyclopedia entry about a Norwegian World World II hero, it all makes sense to me. Clearly she expected to benefit from higher per capita production of Olympic medals. Even it is produced by socialist investments in the commanding heights of athletics.
Note: I think the title to this post is an extremely clever reference to Soviet popular culture, and I’m really bummed that almost nobody except me is likely to agree.
Matthew Yglesias is insufficiently pessimistic about Russia, capitalism and democracy, not to mention the Olympics:
One would like the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism to be seen not as something in which America “won” and Russia “lost.” Russian people are, after all, much better off in 2010 than they were in 1980. But people have national pride, and Russians were once the core ethnic group of a mighty power and now simply have a nation-state that, while large, is clearly slipping behind other contenders in a whole variety of ways. The Olympics is a basically harmless venue for nationalistic passions, but these sentiments generally get played out in ways that are very much not harmless.
It’s really not at all clear that the median Russian is much better off in 2010 than he or she (especially he) was in 1980. For one thing, male life expectancy was 62.7 in 1980 and 61.8 in 2008. Though to a large extent this stems from the fact that it’s now much easier and cheaper to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, and heroin, which I guess you could think of as being “better off” in some ways.
More important, it is even less clear that Russian people are better off now than they would have been if the Communist Party were still running a unified Soviet Union with a reformed, semi-privatized market economy. The examples of China and Vietnam suggest that they are not. And the incredible rise of China to Olympic superpowerdom has followed the country’s economic rise to prosperity under an authoritarian single-party political system. Which serves as evidence for a lot of Russians that trying to move towards a Euro-American model of governance by driving the CPSU from power in 1991 might have been a mistake.
I think the lesson here is that people just tend to overrate the extent to which variation in the success of an NFL passing game is driven by variation in the skill of the quarterback. I think you can especially see this with Favre, who appears to be putting together the best season of his career at age 40. Common sense says that he can’t be actually reaching the peak of his abilities as an athlete at this age. Fans who (like me) watch the games but don’t have experience playing football have a very hard time distinguishing slightly below average offensive line play from exceptional offensive line play, but obviously that makes a huge difference.
What we’d want to look at here are some metrics that give us a good proxy for offensive line play. We could look at how often Favre is getting sacked. But that’s not such a perfect indicator, because a good quarterback is going to be able to do one of two things: either get the ball away before he gets sacked, or turn a sack into a rushing attempt. A better indicator would be the sum of four indicators that a QB isn’t getting protection: sacks, interceptions (which show he’s being hurried), rushes, and fumbles. If you look at sacks alone, you’ll see Favre appears to be getting pretty good protection, but not exceptional: 22 sacks in his 11 games so far this year, vs. 30 in 16 games last year for the Jets, 15 in 2007 for the Packers, 18 in 2006, 29 in 2005, etc.
But if you add up sacks, ints, rushing attempts, and fumbles, you get…
This metric would suggest Favre is getting better protection this year than he’s had since 2004.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had metrics like this to measure how well we’re doing in Afghanistan? Unfortunately, we don’t. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that I’ve cherry-picked the above metrics to produce something that appears to explain Favre’s great season this year. If we did have some kind of metrics for Afghanistan, pundits, generals and political leaders would no doubt do exactly the same to produce results that make it look like we’re winning. Or losing. Oh well.