The Geographer’s Apprentice

I’m sitting, eating, looking down at the Place des Grottes. A square framed by four houses. A little girl is learning how to roller blade. A man is sitting on a bench talking to himself. Periodically he explodes into sporadic air drums. The first house has 14 windows, all the same, except on one windowsill, there’s a bouquet of carnations. The second house has 30 windows, but all subtly different. The third house is the Maison Vert. It’s got graffiti and intricate moulding. Tonight there will be a benefit concert. For now, it’s quiet. I am sitting inside the fourth house, eating a crêpe aux champignons. And drinking a beer. I am not enjoying the beer, because I salted it. I used to work with an old French Canadian named Bob who would always salt his beer. Now I do it too, but only very rarely. Only when I forget that it really doesn’t help the taste. Behind the first house, the one with the carnations, there is a rail viaduct that leads to Station Carnavin. The station is just out of view, but I see the trains speed up and slow down.  I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, but I do know that it’s important that it’s in the Place des Grottes, by Station Cornavin, and not just in some square somewhere.

One of the best things in poetry and song lyrics for me is specific grounding and reference to place. It feels lived-in and gives a specificity that is much more universal than any attempt at universality would be.

My favourite poem that my grandpa wrote revolves around a list of streets that he is walking on after saying goodbye. And the specific names of the streets, the route that we can recreate, make the poem what it is. And yes, for those of us who know the geographic reference, there’s an additional delight in recognition. But that’s not a requirement. We don’t all have the same reference points, but we do have our own unique reference points, the street names that mean something to us. The ones we hear, if they sound real enough, nod at our own.  And then, too, there is the wonder at the largeness and intricacy of the world that can have so many places, each a reference point to someone. Even just that thought makes me hopeful.

For example, I’ve never been to Recife, and I doubt I will ever go to Recife, and in fact if I did go to Recife, I don’t think I’d actually like it. But two of my favourite MPB songs right now (Maria Bethânia’s Frevo № 2 and Catia de França’s O Bonde) are about Recife, I think, and I really like this so much more than if they were about some unspecified town.

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Kavanaugh Hearing Impressions

Watching some of the hearing, I’m not sure I’m convinced as to who’s is telling the truth, though I can say that Dr. Ford’s performance was flawless.  However, the person she has to thank the most for how well she did is Rachel Mitchell, apparently the world’s crappiest cross examiner.

“The fact that what you told you psychiatrist differs significantly from what you’re claiming now, that’s ’cause he just wrote it down all wrong, right?  No, totally, psychiatrists can be so goofy.”

“The fact that there’s no indication that you mentioned Kavanaugh’s name before, we should probably just gloss over that?  Ya, I thought so.”

“That you’ve concocted a story about how you were too traumatized to fly, in order to stall, that’s nothing to worry about, right?  I know, isn’t flying fun? You’re so well traveled.  I wish we could hang out.”

“So, that everyone you name as a witness contradicts you, that’s probably nothing, and totally understandable, wouldn’t you agree?  Oh, you say one of them isn’t feeling well? Well, that clears that up.  Gee, I hope it’s nothing serious.”

“Don’t worry, we’re almost done. You don’t mind if I just ramble on about how senate hearings suck in general? Great I’ll just do that.”

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Our March

With zipppa’s help, I translated a Mayakovsky poem, too. I never thought I’d be able to translate a Mayakovsky poem, to be honest.

Our March

Let the city squares beat with stomps of mutiny!
Higher, haughty heads’ herd!
With the flow of the second deluge we
Will wash out the cities of the worlds.

Days’ dappled ox.
Years’ slow cart.
Speed is our god.
Our drum—the heart.

Are there golds more skylike than ours are?
Will it be us that the bullet’s wasp stings?
Our weapons—our hymns and marches.
Our gold—the voices that ring.

Lie green, grass,
Carpet down days.
Rainbows, set straps
To the fast-flying colts of age.

See, the sky of stars is bored!
We don’t need it for the songs we weave
Hey, you, Big Dipper! We won’t be ignored
Take us to the heavens while we still live

Sing! Drink delight!
Spring flows through us.
Heart, sound the fight!
Our breast — the cymbals’ brass.

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Some Osip Mandelshtam Translations

I used to say that I didn’t really like Osip Mandelshtam, although I liked a few of his poems. But then I realized that a poet should not be judged by their average output, but by their heights. And some of his poems are among my favourite poems of all time. So now I say that I really like Osip Mandelshtam. I’ve put up a translation of a poem of his on this blog before, and it’s still my favourite as far as things that worked to translate, but here are three more. I’m always looking to improve, so comments and suggestions are extremely welcome.

The translations are below the fold.

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Kavanaugh, Priests For Life v. HHS

During the confirmation hearings of Neil Gorsuch, I was a little taken aback by his pompousness and haughty manner of speaking, and my subsequent analysis of his trans-am dissent, lead me to conclude that he is almost certainly a dick.

This time around, seeing how Brett Kavanaugh appeared pretty normal and down to earth, I again took a look at a randomly taken opinion of his, to see if my inklings were on track.

I am proud to say that indeed they were.  His dissent in Priests For Life v. Health and Human Services is truly excellent.  It is simple to understand, the reasoning is clear and goes to the heart of the matter.  It is starkly different from the majority opinion which is convoluted, uses circular and fuzzy logic, leaving you with a “huh?” feeling.

I realize that my sample size is again only 1, and that he did say some eyebrow raising things, (most notably how his thinking about presidential powers magically changed after 911), but overall, it does seem that Kavanaugh will actually be really good.

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Faithful Give or Take a Night or Two

If you enjoy sex, legal squabbles, politics and human depravity in general, you likely look upon the Trump presidency as a godsend.  What tragedy, comedy and drama all at once, not to mention the sheer aesthetic beauty of the Cohen and Manafort sagas reaching simultaneous orgasm.  Reality is leaving fiction in the dust.  The only downside is that news develops too fast for me to be able to form any sort of coherent opinion, but as this is too good not to write about I’ll just list the questions that came to mind.

First, the easy one – can one actually reject a pardon? This is what Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis claims his client is dead set on.  I’m leaving aside here Cohen’s spectacular overnight metamorphosis from an unprincipled scumbag to someone willing to sacrifice his freedom and the well-being of his family for a dubious display of nobility.  Turns out the short answer is that yes, pardons can be rejected, as opposed to immunities and commutations though the precedent on commutations possibly overrides the earlier ones on pardons, in which case the answer would be no.

Second, for which I have not found any answers and do not understand at all – what does it take to conspire with your lawyer and at which point is he at liberty to testify against you?   I have always assumed that the answer is never, though if we think about more of a godfather/consiglieri relationship, there should be things that are not covered by attorney client privilege, especially if the attorney actively participates in the crimes.  I realized I have no idea where the line is drawn. Intuitively for a person other than an actual mafia boss (ya, I know), any sort of request along the lines of “I have a problem, help me make it go away”, would seem to carry with it an expectation that it’s done lawfully.

Third, and most baffling – what is it that just happened?  Trump claimed that what Cohen confessed to, were “not crimes”, which is of course nonsense since the charges are listed before the plea is entered.  The two campaign finance related charges both carry a 5 year maximum penalty.  However, this does beg the question as to whether the actions described as part of the plea are believable and fulfill the requirements of the offense.  Focusing  just on count 8 for brevity, the key requirement of the offense is that it be “made for the purpose of influencing election”, and indeed Cohen states “I participated in this conduct … for the principal purpose of influencing the election”.  So, the judge in the case, to accept the plea was to believe that Cohen, who’s main client was Trump, and for whom he allegedly arranged several payoffs to other women, prior to Trump becoming a candidate, in this case, as opposed to the previous cases, did so, not to satisfy his client and thus maintain his livelihood, not to spare Trump embarrassment or marital problems and the associated potential expenses, but specifically to influence the election.  This seems to strain credulity, though it’s quite possible I’m misunderstanding how this is supposed to work.

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Prediction Special: 2018 NHL Playoffs

At the wedding, I talked with M., who works at a biotech startup that’s trying to prevent food poisoning. He joked that he felt he wasn’t doing a good enough job, since he himself had gotten food poisoning earlier in the trip. I replied that it was important to have your personal goals align with your work goals, and so him getting food poisoning had the positive side of his labour no longer being alienated. Which was all great and funny, but then I stupidly got food poisoning, too. Whereas my job has no impact on food poisoning whatsoever, and so I maintain there was no reason for this to happen. All it means I didn’t really venture past the bed-bathroom lane of my apartment today. However, that did give me some time to write these predictions.

The West:

(1) Nashville / (8) Colorado A year after their surprise appearance in the cup finals (here is where we mention that Rated Zed picked Nashville to win in rounds 1 though 3 last year to build extra cred), the Predators are the odds-on favourites this time, and should have less trouble dispatching the Avalanche than an over-eager snowboarder with a lead foot and bad assessment of the snowpack has in triggering an avalanche. The difference between Nashville and Colorado is that Colorado was willed into the playoffs singlehandedly by Nathan Mackinnon. Nashville was already a complete team at the start of the year, and then improved throughout the season by adding Kyle Turris and Ryan Hartman (even if they overpaid greatly for the latter). I was hoping for Nashville to win the Rick Nash sweepstakes, as well, but hey, it’s not like Colorado has John Denver playing for them, so there’s no advantage for the Avs anywhere, even in eponymous players.  Preds in 4.

Conference III Grudgematch: Winnipeg / Minnesota The thing about the Jets is that nobody dislikes them. Which must be really frustrating to the Jets and their fans. On one hand, it’s because they’re a truly likeable team with a lot of youth, skill, plucky players like Perreault and Armia, and Patrik Laine’s weirdo charm. On the other, if you’re not hated, it’s because no one cares. And the Jets, who haven’t won a playoff series in their current incarnation, and were lousy in their previous one, need to shed their lovable losers image by becoming less lovable and less losery. I think they will manage to do so here. Get ready to say it with me, everyone, for their own sake, I Hate Winnipeg. Maybe we can start by disliking Tyler Myers for being too tall and kinda awkward? Jets in 4

(2) Las Vegas / (7) Los Angeles The Golden Knights have been falling off really badly of late in terms of 5-on-5 play and are just getting buoyed by good special teams numbers and unsustainable shooting percentages. I heard that somewhere and want to believe it enough that I’m not going to bother checking whether it’s actually true.  As a staunch believer in a Las Vegas team being a terrible idea, I want them to lose, and they seem extremely capable of that. Kings in 6

California Grudgematch: Anaheim / San Jose It’s not fair to judge the Ducks by their overall record, since they had their top 6 injured for about half the year. At the same time, their goalie John Gibson is becoming a legitimate superstar and could be capable of stealing a series that is otherwise evenly matched. The Ducks are outperforming their shot metrics, sure, but they’ve done that for years. It is much more likely that there’s something shot metrics aren’t capturing, than that they’ve been lucky every single year for the last 6. All of this makes it sound like the Ducks should win, but in a bold and unpredictable twist, I am calling for a Sharks victory. It’s a twist, it doesn’t have to make sense. What, you need a rationale? Fine, the Sharks should control play, are heating up at the right time, and are not likely to take stupid penalties. In a difficult series to call, Sharks in 6

The East:

(1) Tampa Bay / (8) New Jersey Mid-season, I was really looking forward to Tampa doing really well this year. Now that Andrey Vasilevskiy has shown flashes of mediocrity, I think Tampa’s position looks a lot more precarious. But Yonic Gourd and the gang should still have enough to beat “Team Taylor Hall and uhh some other dudes, I guess…” I mean, the Devils are more of a one-man show than your average Fringe production! They are more Hall-dependent than the tourism industry of Cooperstown, NY! Taylor Hall has less support out there than the Green Party does in Fort McMurray! I can make like 2.5 more terrible jokes about this! Point is, can you sustain that and succeed over the course of a series where matchups and coaching are increasingly important? I think not. Bolts in 7

(2) Washington / (7) ‘Lumbus Sometimes you get the feeling that, even though a team seems to be doing well, it’s all a mirage, and they’re about to be completely embarrassed. I’m getting that feeling about the Caps. Here’s the thing: that feeling is usually correct. I like the Caps, but you never get that feeling about teams you don’t like. That’s because hockey fandom is cruel and teams that you like are losers, and even if they do manage to win something once, it’s a fluke and it doesn’t last. And all future Stanley Cups will be won by the Boston Bruins or someone equally odious. And then when you die, you will be met by a grinning John Tortorella who will inform you that there’s actually no afterlife, just this brief moment of meeting John Tortorella before your consciousness is wiped out forever. Ahem. Columbus in 7

The Metro Still Sucks, Though Not By Any Objective Metric, Grudgematch: Pittsburgh / Philadelphia I am looking forward to this series a lot, and as a “rivalry” series that’s not surprising. A lot of the time NHL “rivalries” make for good games to watch. The beautiful thing about Pittsburgh-Philadelphia is that instead of upping the intensity like in a normal rivalry, this matchup just tends to up the ridiculousness. Things I think we will see: a line brawl, a game with a combined save percentage of below .700, Evgeni Malkin getting into a fight, and a brilliant overtime winner overruled by a 3 mm offside call from two minutes earlier. Somehow, the Flyers have managed to be extremely nondescript for several years now, despite having Voracek and Giroux and Couturier. So I don’t know where this ridiculousness will come from, but I trust that it will. Still, the Flyers’ nondescript nature means that in a battle of the ridiculous, they are going to be the underdog. Pens in 6

Flortheast Grudgematch: Boston / Toronto It was 4-1!!!

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As I said the last time they faced each other: can both teams lose, please? Look, Toronto’s pretty good. Still. All the analytics-minded people in Vancouver say that Toronto is the posterboy for a rebuild, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The team has plenty of problems, from overreliance on Fredrik Andersen, to a lack of true top defensive talent. It’s amazing to see how Leafs fans went from perpetual woe-is-me misery to douchey smugness at the turn of a switch. At least the Red Sox won a World Series first. So I’m cheering for the Toronto fans to get their comeuppance. Boston is good enough to be able to beat anyone in the East when they’re healthy, and they’re mostly healthy.  Boston in 7

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