Northern Elegy № 6

(A. Akhmatova)

Последний ключ – холодный ключ забвенья.
Он слаще всех жар сердца утолит.

–Пушкин

There are three stages of remembering.
And first – as if it was the day before
The soul resides beneath their blessed vault
The body feels the pleasure of their shadow
The laughter’s not died down, the tears flow on
The inkstain hasn’t been wiped off the table
And like an imprint on the heart, a kiss
The parting kiss, the unforgettable, the only.

But this can only last a little while.
Already it’s no vault above the head
But a lone house in some forgotten suburb
Where winter’s cold and summer is too hot
With dust on everything, and spiders.
Where fiery letters are already embers
Where secretly the portraits change their faces
Where people go as if to visit gravestones
And coming back, wash off their hands with soap
And wipe a little swiftly running tear
From tired eyes. And sigh a heavy sigh.
But clocks tick on and spring arrives
One spring after another, and the sky
Turns pink, the cities change their appellations
Events have no more witnesses and there
Are none to cry with or to reminisce.
And slowly then the shadows leave us
Shadows that we no longer call out to.
And whose return would cause us to be frightened.
And once, we wake and see that we’ve forgotten
Even the way to reach that lonely house
And breathless, then, with shame and indignation
We run there, but (as happens in a dream)
There all is different: people, things, and walls
And no one knows us there – we are strangers.
We wound up at the wrong place… God!
And that is when the bitterest time arrives
We realize that we would not contain
That past within the borders of our life
That it is nearly as alien to us
As it is to the man who lives next door.
That those who died – we wouldn’t recognize them
And those who parted from us through the will of God
Got along fine without us – and it’s even
All for the best.

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On Tanking, Part II: Tanking Might Not Even Work

Previously, we discussed that tanking was happening, and that it shouldn’t be. I was going to lay out the different ways tanking could be curtailed in a continuation of this set of posts. Sadly, I was scooped on this by Down Goes Brown, even though I said I was going to talk about it in a previous post! How rude. It’s like he didn’t even read it. Other people who didn’t read part I include some people in this blog’s meagre readership. I was told that I should stop making really long posts about hockey because they are boring and make me look unprofessional. So I’m not going to talk about the ways of stopping tanking. DGB is a better writer and knows more about hockey. Although he is semi-constrained in the above piece by realism, and it’s also true that DGB is in my view inordinately excited about hockey-peripheral things like the trade deadline, free agent day and the draft. These things are exciting to hockey journalists, but it seems to me that they’re not actually all that exciting for people who are not hockey journalists. So if I had written about it, I’d be more for things like eliminating the draft entirely, having a limited free-agent signing session before the draft, ranking draft order by points at the trade deadline to partially eliminate rental trades, etc. than he is. Oh well.

Instead, I want to address the people that will surely encourage the Canucks to tank next year. The Canucks got eliminated in a highly frustrating fashion this week. I luckily only saw part of the 2nd period, or else I’d be sadder. But the Canucks exit will surely tempt those (like Canucks Army writers) who favour tanking to lament that they wasted this year by getting eliminated in the first round rather than try to get the best possible pick by sucking a lot. And try to get them to rebuild next year. But it’s not that simple.

pronman_reduxThe case for tanking is the graph I alluded to in the previous post: Corey Pronman charting what happened to the point totals of the best and worst teams over several years. It seems to show the worst teams becoming the best. But is that graph at all representative of what usually happens? I decided to pick another time slice at random and re-do it to check. The result is graphed above. From the dataset I picked, it appears that the worst teams stay bad, and the key to future success is actually to be a relatively mediocre “bubble” team. I’m not going to go around telling you that that’s actually true and the Canucks are destined for greatness. No, what it means is that the conclusion that “tanking works” is strongly dataset dependent, which means it’s very weak. Tanking is not highly predictive of future success. I suppose you could make the same point much more easily by looking at the recent drafting history of the Edmonton Oilers. But that tends to get deflected with “lol, Oilers” – which is fair. That’s insufficient to explain what we see in the above graph.

So I say, good job to the Aquilinis and Benning for not tanking. The future effects of tanking are hard to define. Whereas the effects on the present are easy to see: a really unpleasant time for the fans and everyone else involved. That doesn’t seem like a good bargain to me.

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Advice on Buying a Car in the US and Importing it into Canada

When we started this blog years ago, we had hopes that it would be useful to somebody as well as entertaining for ourselves. It has been entertaining for me, but I don’t think I really wrote anything that would be of use to other people. So it’s time to remedy that. Here is some advice in case you are living in the US temporarily and will move back to Canada. You may be tempted to buy a car in the US, thinking that you can then take it with you to back to Canada when you move back. Advice: don’t do that.

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Songbook of Days: UN English Language Day I

Today, the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, is also UN English Language Day. To celebrate, I wanted to link to songs by some songwriters where I appreciate the use of the English language. But there are a lot of such songs. So I will start with non-hiphop, and then move on.

Leonard Cohen – he can be sentimental and romantic, and I think that’s what his songs are most known for. But he can also be absolutely brutal. Or he can be both at once. Or he can sound like a prophet, like on “Story of Isaac”. I was once asked who I, as a Canadian, am most proud to have as a countryman, and I said Leonard Cohen*. I don’t know if I would still make that choice if someone asked, but probably. Chelsea Hotel №2 · Sisters of Mercy · I Left a Woman Waiting · Johnny Cash – Bird on a Wire

Bill Callahan – whether under his own name or as Smog, Bill Callahan is always recognizable. I admire his earnestness and the beauty of his metaphors. When you are young and feeling full of emotion and possibility and huge sadness, teenage spaceship captures that feeling more than anything else. Teenage Spaceship · Devotion · Sycamore

Joanna Newsom – rather than having a whole song’s worth of coherent lyrics, Joanna Newsom goes for a more hiphop-like approach of trying for beautiful turns of phrase many times in each song. Sometimes it feels like she just throws everything she can at the wall just to see what sticks. It only works a portion of the time. But when it works, man, it really works. Does Not Suffice · In California · Good Intentions Paving Company

John Darnielle – what makes John Darnielle more than just your run of the mill indie songwriter is that what interests John Darnielle isn’t what would strike people as “cool”. Mountain Goats songs are countercultural in the best sense – it’s the nature in West Texas, it’s biblical verses, it’s pro wrestling, it’s a ward for troubled teens, it’s divorce, it’s street performers in Tallahassee. That makes them endlessly interesting. Oceanographer’s Choice · The Legend of Chavo Guerrero · The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton · Genesis 3:23

Tom Waits – he’s the chronicler of all America’s weirdnesses and weirdoes. A lot of his songs seem funny at first, and then turn out to be heartfelt and tender and incredibly sad (even if they still remain funny, like for example The Piano Has Been Drinking). And some of them are clearly incredibly sad right away. There is nobody else like him at all. Swordfishtrombone · Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis · You Can Never Hold Back Spring · Solomon Burke – Diamond in Your Mind

Jarvis Cocker – there is no one better at chronicling people’s relationships and pushing the boundaries of sleaziness, creepiness, desperation, even cruelty sometimes. It is easy to always try to be likeable. It isn’t easy to both sing in the character of death trying to seduce with “you have such a beautiful body/you’d make such a beautiful body” and to explain to a girl why you slept with her sister. I’m glad Pulp chose the latter route. Common People · Dishes · Disco 2000 · Lipgloss

Randy Newman – I like him primarily as a songwriter, because his voice is kind of annoying, and also because presumably having the songs be picked by other people helps restrain some of his excessive tendencies. Still, there are songs that he sings himself that are so sarcastic and biting that I can’t imagine that anyone else can sing them. I don’t think another song as devastating as “God’s Song” has been written. God’s Song · Nina Simone – Baltimore · Flamin Groovies – Have You Seen My Baby · Harry Nilsson – Sail Away

Stuart Murdoch – Belle and Sebastian songs are full of clever, funny lines that seem to be taken out of a really interesting story: “Lisa learned a lot from putting on a blindfold / when she knew she had been bad / she met another blind kid at a fancy dress / it was the best sex she ever had.” So you think, wouldn’t it be great if Murdoch expanded from that into a book or a movie. But then he did and it wasn’t that great. His songs work best as very specific still frames, letting you think there’s more to the story. I Fought in a War · Lazy Line Painter Jane · The State I Am In · The Boy with the Arab Strap

Alex Turner – the person carrying on Jarvis Cocker’s tradition of making brilliant pop songs which you sing along to, and then suddenly wonder at yourself singing something so cruel or desperate or just plain creepy. His lyrics are a little bit uneven sometimes, but on the other hand, I like the music and the delivery a lot, too, which isn’t the case for some of these choices. Cornerstone · Love is a Laserquest · When the Sun Goes Down · The Last Shadow Puppets – My Mistakes Were Made For You

Suggestions? What are your favourite uses of the English language in songs?

*Incidentally, her choice as a Dutchwoman – Herman van Veen – sings a beautiful Dutch version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

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Zuuko Makes His Triumphant Return To Blogging

hello everyone. It’s been a while…

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s/plan/flan/

I realize you can get a slightly better version of the same joke in Russian without even having to change a letter, but still…

A secret flan
The man with the flan
Time for flan “B”
It’s all a part of the flan
The best laid flans of mice and men
My opponent’s flan is based on asking the middle class to pay more in taxes
If you fail to flan, you flan to fail
A man, a flan, a canal, Panama
Central Flanning

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Prediction Special: 2015 NHL Playoffs

My favourite job on this blog is predicting things, and although I’ve had fun going through the brackets of nuclear bomb threats, resolutions of the Fermi paradox and the like, sometimes we have to turn our attention to matters of a little more consequence. It’s the 2015 NHL Playoffs. Who could predict this?

(1) New York Rangers / (8) Pittsburgh The Penguins weren’t able to hold off the Ottawa Senators after taking a 3-0 lead with the playoffs on the line. That doesn’t bode well for them in pressure situations.  Alain Vigneault, the Presidents Trophy Winningest coach of the last little while has done it all with his star netminder injured, and while leading a supremely unlikeable team in the Rangers. “Alain Vigneault leads unlikeable President’s trophy winners to Stanley Cup Finals” is a script I’ve heard before. Then again, so is “Alain Vigneault leads unlikeable President’s trophy winners to devastating first round defeat”. But to the Penguins? A team whose depth mirrors a cardboard cutout of a Twilight sequel? I don’t think so. Rangers in 5.

(2) Montreal / (7) Ottawa The Sens are a fantastic story, have exciting rookies, seem to have Montreal’s number in head to head matchups. They have the underdog goaltending phenom to beat all underdog goaltending phenoms, their GM is battling cancer and they’ve put it all on the line for him. The amazing turnaround with new coaching has Ottawa believing they can do anything. And, frequently, it seems that they can. Montreal has Carey Price. Habs in 6.

Flortheast Grudgematch: Tampa Bay / Detroit Tampa Bay scores a bunch of goals. Goals are good. They back up those goals with being a good team possession-wise in every situation, and having decent goaltending. If anything is giving me pause in predicting a sweep, it is that Tampa Bay employs people with names like Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov. This makes me think the Lightning might be stuck in some Gogol short story. But then again, what if it’s a Gogol story with a happy ending? What if Ben Bishop’s nose turns out to be an amazing defensive prospect, for example? Stats-heads will not like me saying this, but I think you can’t discount that possibility. T-Bay in 5.

The Metro Still Sucks Grudgematch: New York Islanders / Washington There is something that is not letting me pick the Islanders. Is it their inexperience? Their disappointing second half to the season? The dislike for John Tavares’ face? The desire to tenderly look their GM in the eyes and whisper “You know nothing, Garth Snow”? Whatever it is, I’m picking Ovechkin, the best non-goalie in the NHL, and the rest of the gang. Caps in 4.

(1) Anaheim / (8) Winnipeg Once again Anaheim wins the west while underwhelming the fancystats-minded. I’m not gonna put on a Don Cherry suit and scream how Corsi’s broken, but perhaps there is something good about Anaheim that this particular stat undercounts? Or is it that the Ducks have just been lucky for several years in a row? I think the former is more likely. The Ducks are a strong team. The Jets on the other hand are a good possession team with a question mark in goal. That question mark is: do they continue playing Ondrej Pavelec, who has been surprisingly great for the last month? I think the answer to that is yes. And yet, there is no reason to think Ondrej Pavelec has suddenly turned into a good goalie in a month after being an obviously bad one for several years. So, contrary to what analyzing the mascots will tell you – which is how I usually make my picks – I think the ducks will heroically soar into the jet engines and emerge mostly unscathed Ducks in 7.

(2) St. Louis / (7) Minnesota Stop me, oh oh oh, stop me: Once seeming nigh unbeatable, St. Louis is fading a bit down the stretch, turning in mediocre possession numbers. Their goaltending situation is also somewhat murky. Minnesota, meanwhile, has been a strong team all year that got done in early by terrible goaltending. Now that their goaltending is provided by the correctly-head-positioned Devan Dubnyk, who, ironically, had to leave Phoenix to rise from the ashes, well, they’re a strong team with good goaltending. Maybe I got this whole hockey thing figured wrong here, but I think that is a recipe for success. Minny in 5.

Conference III Grudgematch: Nashville / Chicago Pekka Rinne is very good. Corey Crawford is not as good. Patrick Kane is injured. Filip Forsberg is not as injured (i.e., not injured at all). The Preds seem to be seriously fading – maybe they are getting fatigued. Nevertheless, I believe in Pekka Rinne. And if not him, Carter Hutton.  Preds in 6.

Californian (other parts of the division being irrelevant) Grudgematch: Vancouver / Calgary I named these conferences last year, and it turns out my naming skills are not very good. It should also probably make you suspicious of my prediction skills in gene… hey, look over there! On paper, Vancouver is the better team. Here’s a selection of teams that are better than Calgary on paper though: Certainly at least 25 teams, and potentially all the teams except the Buffalo Sabres. Calgary plays a low-event game, not shooting much, nor getting shot at. Even though they are bad, that kind of game equalizes the chances between the good and bad teams. I think the Canucks could beat them, but not if they play Ryan Miller, who is clearly not yet recovered from injury. Since the Canucks staff seem to operate on the “if we pay you lots of money you must be good” theory (cf. Sbisa), I have no faith that Ryan Miller will not play. Ryan Miller will probably play. If he does, I think Flames will win. But since picking against the Canucks is lame, I have decided they will play Eddie Lack, and that means Canucks in 7.

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