As we near the coldest day of the year ride on Jan. 30 (statistically: the temperature is supposed to be above freezing that day this year) we find ourselves thinking of death and dying: the closing, the ending, the coming to terms.
Is the ALLDERBLOB kicking the bucket? Is that what we’re saying? So close to ALLDERBLOB day?
No, not yet. But we’ve been mighty quiet lately, and thanks for asking. We’re just struggling with the winter blahs. We’ll be fine.
But the dead. The dead. Robert James Fischer comes to mind. You will know him as “Blobby” Bobby Fischer, the undefeated U.S. chess champion who died last week, age 64. Blobby was a hero to many, although not to us. We never liked chess. We prefer go. If you want to read about Blobby, turn to Wikipedia, or this stunning obituary from the BBC:
“He did enjoy humiliating his opponents. He could sense when his opponent was crumbling before him,” says David Edmonds.
We suspect it’s the crumbling of an opponent he was “sensing” when he made those oft-quoted statements following the Events of September, 2001: “This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the US once and for all.”
Time will tell whether his judgment was correct or not.
Of course, folks in the U.S. are fickle: they liked ol’ Blobby when he was doing their work: defeating the (then) evil empire at its own game (chess, we mean). After all, “Lenin was a keen chess player, so was Trotsky – even Karl Marx himself played chess” (from the BBC story). So the Blob was a hero in the U.S. when he took the title from the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. Apparently though, his skills at chess did not save him when it came time to play go.
Go: now there’s a game. black blobs, white blobs, and a grid of crossing points. Lenin, Marx, Trotsky, Mao, sit down.
Go is to Western chess what philosophy is to double entry accounting.
There are Oriental folk tales reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle in which people have been stopped by an old man [one of the Immortals], played a game of Go, and upon getting up from the board have found a hundred years have gone by. This purely mental aspect of the game is in its intellectual dynamic. These Chinese had seen it as encompassing the principles of nature and the universe and of human life, as the diversion of the immortals, a game of abundant spiritual powers.
Who else is dead?
Well, Hans Monderman, for one. He also died this past month, on Jan. 7. The news slipped past us, although we were sure to have been wearing black that day (we always wear black). Who was Hans Monderman? Faithful readers of the blob-of-blobs will recall this item, from October of 2007, when we had the opportunity to kick Mr. Monderman’s tires at the Walk21 conference here in Toronto.
Fact is, Monderman was a traffic engineer, a profession not likely to win our favour. With Jane Jacobs, we view traffic engineering as a pseudo-science, a profession that only discredits itself by its unwillingness to embrace the experimental method of its supposed brethren, the real engineers. Case in point, the situation at the Dundas bridge over the Don River, where the road was closed to all traffic for several months while under repair. Jack Lakey, the so-called “fixer” at the Toronto Star, rumbled about the Dundas bridge some time ago, and we rumbled about Lakey in a subsequent lob. Lakey is the perfect lackey to the traffic engineers of this world: anything that slows “traffic” (cars and trucks, that is) must be removed. The world must be streamlined.
But Monderman would have given Lakey pause, we believe. Monderman refused to blindly accept the claims of the traffic engineers. He chose to dig into things. He chose to examine evidence. As a result, he realized remarkable things. His work in the Netherlands and in Germany is deep and broad. He will live on in the work of those who have the courage of their convictions. His story is an inspiration for anyone who chooses actual evidence over anecdotal wishful thinking.
Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who is putting some of Monderman’s ideas to work in Britain, has written: “What is so remarkable about the man is that he has achieved such a transformation in thinking from the basis of a traffic engineer (not a profession famed for its profound thinking and original analysis).