Last Days! Before the bell tolls: 12 of the Best
FIRST, BEST WISHES FOR A HEALTHY AND HAPPY NEW YEAR to all readers of 2nd Opinion.
This being the 12th day of Christmas, the festive unlocking of 12 of the best posts of 2021 is almost done. If you haven’t already browsed the archive or have just forgotten the chain of events that brought us here - Covid, Riots, Conspiracy, Elections, Atmospheric Science, Culture Wars, Activist Judges and a new coalition government…
Here’s a brief summary of the most-read posts from last year. They’re free to browse or share for a few more hours or days, until the locks click shut. Not that they’re ever shut for subscribers, whose support makes it all possible: I’m writing this because you’re here, graag gedaan, but - seriously - a big thank you.
Minister for shiny shoes
The slow start to vaccination is the new agile – or so I thought a year ago. The first coronavirus vaccine in the Netherlands was injected on January 6th 2021, far later than was promised but two days ahead of the new schedule - de eerste prikken komende woensdag – en niet pas vrijdag, anticipated NRC.
Sanna Elkadiri, 39, from Eindhoven was injected - ingespoten - with the Pfizer vaccine at a GGD-priklocatie in Veghel. Hers was the first of 30,000 doses distributed to 10 hospital pharmacies, all with facilities to store them in deep freezers at -70 degrees.
Health workers are at the head of the queue for vaccination after the government bowed to a televised appeal by two top health service managers on Nieuwsuur, NPO’s primetime news programme. Doctors were moved to the top of the list too, after the ministry of health did a last-minute deal with the Landelijke Huisartsen Vereniging, the National General Practitioners Association which represents almost 11,000 GPs.
A separate development
Dutch rioters were testing a new kind of inter-racial cooperation, I suggested on January 31st. Hundreds of rioters - relschoppers, most of them teenagers, almost exclusively male, were arrested across the country.
On public broadcaster NOS, criminologist Henk Ferwerda described an impromptu revolt of “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild – all three groups came together”. A consensus view was that legitimate demonstrations against a 9pm curfew imposed on January 23rd had been “hi-jacked”.
Ministers blamed criminal elements, who would be “dealt with as such”, said prime minister Mark Rutte. In Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the city’s Muslim mayor, spoke powerfully to a theme of “shameless thieves” - schaamteloze dieven. Although small in scale and perhaps trivial in intent, the sudden violence on Dutch streets also exploded some cherished fictions, themselves symptomatic of much larger problems.
(For more on the disillusioned political fringes, see also: Conspiracy Rappers)
Gentle Dutch genius whose work entered the language
Paul Crutzen grew up in Amsterdam during the Hongerwinter, found work designing bridges for the Gemeente, and later won a Nobel prize for research which anticipated the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer. An atmospheric scientist, he was the first researcher to see his discoveries adopted as global public policy when CFCs in aerosol cans were banned. Crutzen is widely credited for coining the terms ‘nuclear winter’ and ‘Anthropocene’, ideas so compelling that both became household phrases.
(For more on the collision of atmospheric science with government policy, see also Revolutionary Supreme Court for the World)
Follow the whale: an encounter with Philip Hoare
AESTHETE. AUTHOR. PUNK. Winner of the prestigious BBC Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. A salt water swimmer in all seasons. A man obsessed by whales. British writer Philip Hoare is all these things, which begins to explain the motivation for his adventures in the Dutch province of Zeeland.
It’s all potentially disastrous. Perhaps humans shouldn’t live in Zeeland
Hoare’s book, Albert and the Whale, is inspired in roughly equal measure by renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer and the sharp bite of regular ocean dips in winter waves. In this interview for 2nd Opinion on February 25, I asked him to explain the Dutch influence on Dürer, a European aesthetic re-imagined by Hoare under the influence of David Bowie, pop art and the counter-culture.
Comedian, chameleon, pianist, prime minister
To his detractors, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is often described as a kind of Trojan horse: the harbinger of deep antipathies that have polarised Dutch society and corroded liberal institutions. Comparison is often made to France where Sarkozy mishandled the populist surge from the far-right with such ferocity that he alienated conservative supporters from his own ranks.
On March 16, I charted the case for and against Rutte. The evidence is abundant to frame him as a savvy pragmatist, who has deftly avoided the rejection and defeat met by UK prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, his former peers in the European centre-right.
Young Mark Rutte was impatient to ‘leave the band’, but he never escaped the long shadow of a bourgeois family infused with ‘melancholy for old Europe’
Rutte has simultaneously borrowed from the anti-immigration rhetoric of the far-right while proving more effective - so far - in his efforts to contain or outmanoeuvre Gert Wilders’s nationalist PVV, Freedom Party, and Thierry Baudet’s FvD, Forum for Democracy. Whether that success owes more to the eccentricity of his opponents, or to Rutte’s strategic mind, is moot.
(For more on the Netherlands’ “Teflon” prime minister, see also: On track to come back: Rutte’s bloodless finale)
A voice like sand and glue
On May 24, Bob Dylan turned 80. This piece marks the occasion with the confessions of a self-described Bob-cat.
Burdened with sudden fame in the bright dawn of the US civil rights era, and - worse - the impossible mantle of “spokesman for a generation”, the folksy former protest singer from Duluth, Minnesota, has long seemed intent on sabotaging his own image.
A recent article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph by Neil McCormick, the paper’s pop critic, begins: “We live in the age of Bob Dylan”. From the house journal of British conservatives, that’s a measure of improbable reach and reputation: Dylan still hasn’t shaken off the prophet's mantle he refused.
Lost in translation
THIS IS A STORY of a new Dutch chapter in the Culture Wars. And more specifically, a story of two poets. One American, one Dutch. One Black, one white. Although these binary terms are best avoided, of course: they start us off on a weak footing, shackled to old labels. More accurately, both writers share a poetic aspiration: an idea that language can be liberating.
Amanda Gorman is the 22 year-old national youth poet laureate of the United States, who moved her global audience to tears with a performance of her poem The Hill We Climb at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. A sensation on the steps of the White House, she was promptly offered a modelling contract by international agency IMG Models. Can any other poet claim such a giddy combination of precedents?
Argument over the choice of Gorman’s translator has left a trail in the sand: a new frontline, on Dutch territory, in the globalised culture wars
The other poet is Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, who in 2020 became the first Dutch author to win the International Booker Prize for her first novel, The Discomfort of Evening. Rijneveld, who identifies as non-binary, was 29. A tender age in literary terms if not fashion terms: no old man with furrowed brow - met een doorgroefd gelaat, observed Wilma de Rek in the Volkskrant.
Seizing the post-inaugural moment, Gorman’s US publisher auctioned translation rights. A Dutch edition of her poems with an introduction by Oprah Winfrey is due in March, and a children’s book scheduled for September. Meulenhoff, a respected literary publisher, secured rights for the Netherlands and commissioned Rijneveld to do the work - “an ideal translator”, the company said.
It didn’t turn out that way.
(For more on the politics of translation, see also: The boy-girl standard for new Dutch writing)
A border buried at sea
Riots in Belfast are a European problem too, as I reported on April 17th.
(See also: A fish called Brexit)
Deventer murder: trial and retrial by media
The handyman, the pollster and the podcast - May 14
(See also: Minister of Justice brought to tears by underworld paparazzo)
An Earthquake under Big Oil
The Dutch court, US shareholders and a policy to ban new oil and gas projects: this post from June 4th sketched a perfect storm of activist judges, climate activists and anxious investors.
How to be cool
Before cutting a deal to join a new coalition government, D66 leader Sigrid Kaag let her true feelings show in a scathing September 2021 attack on prime minister Mark Rutte.
The narco-terror of Frau Antje
For once, criticism from Germany doesn’t offend.
(See also: The brother, the lawyer, now the journalist on the untimely death by assassination of crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, 1956-2021)