Friday, April 30, 2010

Playoffs, Round 2

I'd like to start by congratulating the Washington Capitals on a terrific Regular season.  They won the President's Trophy, which goes to the team with the most regular season victories.  Good job guys, and have a terrific summer of golf.  I'd also like to congratulate Alex Ovechkin on a terrific regular season despite finishing behind Sidney Crosby in he scoring race.  Nice work, Alexi.  Have a nice flight.

(all stats from the regular season, courtesy of ESPN)

Pens GFA: 3.04 (5th in the league)  Habs GAA: 2.66 (11th)
Habs GFA: 2.56 (25th)  Pens GAA:  2.87 (20th)

Advantage Pens.  We're should pepper these guys... look for 35+ shots on goal per game.  Washington averaged 40+ per game against Montreal in the 1st round, and only the performance of their goalie saved them.  Montreal has some talent; players like Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are always a threat.  And every fan in the league knows the names Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik.  But after 7 games in which Montreal blocked more than a hundred shots, I don't think these aging defensemen can pull it off for another series.

Pens PP: 17.2% (20th)  Habs PK: 83% (12th)
Habs PP: 21.8% (2nd)   Pens PK: 84.1% (9th)

Advantage Habs.  This is a lethal powerplay.  The Pens must find a way to beat up Montreal's aging talent without taking penalties.   Players like Cooke and Kunitz need to dial it back, at least a little.  And Evgeni Malkin, prone to taking stupid penalties all season, needs to concentrate on scoring rather than repaying every slash and hook.  I TOLD you the Pens PP was better than their regular season stats before the last series, and I expect it to do well this series as well.  But there's no question that Montreal's power play has the potential to win the series for them if we don't stay out of the penalty box.

Fleury's save%: 90.5% (31st) Halak save%: 92.4% (4th)

Advantage Habs.  I knew Halak had been phenomenally good against the Caps, but I hadn't realized how good he'd been in the regular season.  Carey Price doesn't scare me at all, and if Montreal has to pull Halak again (game 3 of the Caps series) we'll crush Price, but Halak stole 4 games from the Caps, and if he plays like that again, the Pens are in very deep trouble.

Of course if Fleury plays like we know he can play, we'll win this series in 4 games.  But if Fleury gives up a couple of his playoff trademark soft goals...

well, the prospect scares me.

I think this series is going to go 7 games.  I hope I'm wrong.  NEVER let a team with a hot goalie take you to game 7.

Friday, April 23, 2010

PA Senate Primary

I really don't want to vote for Arlen Specter...

there are some good, sincere progressives who don't dislike him.  As a senator, he's been quite good on some health care issues.  Or so I'm assured be people I respect, and for whom I'm hot. (Hi, Kathy)

But I have a hard time forgetting that this cretin voted for the Reagan tax cuts, voted for the Bush tax cuts, voted for the Iraq War...

in fairness, he opposed warrantless wiretapping.  And he opposed the insanely conservative Robert Bork.  But that takes me to the heart of my very visceral dislike of Arlen Specter...
the payback for his opposition to Bork was his intentionally dishonest public slandering of Anita Hill.  Arlen Specter is directly responsible for the elevation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.  What he did to Anita Hill was reprehensible.  What he did to the country, by placing Clarence Thomas, (a man who opposes Marbury v. Madison, for Christ's sake) on the Court verges on the treasonous.

The problem I face is the apparent ineptitude of Joe Sestak.  He comes across as a total amateur.  The guy is not a disciplined speaker, at least not on TV.  He seems completely surprised that Specter's gone negative, despite the evidence of every election Specter's ever run.  And...

I got a robocall inviting me to "stay on the line" to participate in a "telephone town hall" with Joe Sestak.


Look, I don't understand it, but not everyone is a hockey fan.  If Sestak's campaign staff doesn't include any hockey fans, one can see how a scheduling gaffe can happen...

except, that's why you read the local paper, so that you can find out about things that are important to the locals.  For example, PHILLY WAS PLAYING NJ AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME.  Perhaps the two cities aren't important in Sestak's campaign to win the Democratic Primary.  Perhaps he hopes to win the nomination with Democrats from the middle of the state...

all six of them.

I'm voting for Joe Sestak.  I'll never be able to forgive Specter for what he did to Anita Hill, and I'll never be able to forgive him for putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.  But Sestak's a leaky vessel to put much hope in.  And in November, I'll have a choice between the despicable Arlen Specter and the maniacal Pat Toomey.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This is a big fucking deal.

Hypersonic heavy payload cruise missiles...

I don't see how you defend troop formations from these things.

Hypervelocity AA defense artillery, maybe. Or do it the North Korean way...

put a nuclear warhead on a yacht and leave it parked in Los Angeles harbor till you want it.

in reference to:

"It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound,"
- U.S. Push for New Class of Weapons Alarms Russia - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Monday, April 19, 2010

There's more to this story...

"Both men were found in a hole?"

A bomb crater? A "spider hole" like the one in which Saadam was hiding? A convenient declivity where retreating insurgents ditched the bodies?

I notice that the Odierno quote is uninformative, too. I wonder if the full text is somewhere...

in any case, "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is no longer the problem. The problem is thousands of angry Sunnis who are not being paid the money they were promised when they flipped to our side.

The United States made promises on behalf of the Maliki government to those men, and the Maliki government has not only failed to fulfill those promises, it has systematically harassed, arrested and disarmed the "Awakening Councils."

My hope is that the new coalition government will include some Sunni parties. That won't stop the former Baathists (probably responsible for the horrible execution of prominent Sunnis a couple weeks ago) but it will prevent the kind of sectarian bloodbath we saw through 2007.

"Mission Accomplished"
"Bring 'em on!"

My God, will that ever stop sticking in my throat.

in reference to:

"Both men were found in a hole in the ground. “The security forces surrounded the hole, and when they got them out they were dead,” Mr. Maliki said at the news conference. Mr. Maliki said computers and letters were found that included communication between the men and Osama bin Laden."
- Top Qaeda Leaders in Iraq Killed in Raid - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It itches....

(image from Wikipedia)

when I don't know something.  It itches worse when I can't find out.  Get a load of this map....

who are these people?  Where did they come from?  Where did they go?  Why didn't they leave me a nice, thick epic saga of their people (rather than endless, tedious records of commercial transactions)?  Who were the Huns?  Does the mitochondrial DNA from grave sites back up the theory that they were Xiongnu?  And get a load of this....

(image from

I guess the cartographer of this map doesn't like the Xiongnu theory of Hun origin...

I apologize for the quality of the maps; the ones in my historical atlases make this point much better than the ones I've found on the internet.

Suffice it to say that hundreds of different "ethnic groups", or "tribes" if you prefer, lived and died on the periphery of the more literate civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  The essential difference between these societies and the "civilized" societies was a matter of economics; many of them were more pastoralist and less agrarian than the Romans or the Greeks or the Persians, although others were completely agrarian.

They were less urbanized than Classical civilizations as well; even when they had towns and farms and property they were perfectly capable of packing up and migrating, abandoning their homes and land.  (See the march of the Helvetii in Book 1 of the Gallic War).

If you look at a map from 500 BC, and another from 500 AD, the names have all changed.  The Germanic tribes have edged out the Celts, the Huns have moved in and subsequently vanished without a trace and the Scythians (who probably never really existed as a unified ethnic group, except in the minds of their distant "civilized" chroniclers) are now Sarmatians, or Parthians, or Avars, or Alans.

The interesting question is the one of ethnic identity.  Our information about these groups is either archeological  or derived from non-members of the group in question.  It is "tainted" by the nationalist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.  These movements intentionally constructed mythological histories to serve as cultural markers reinforcing the sense of national identity among their constituencies.

The tactic is an old one; Hesiod's Theogony legitimizes both a common Greek identity and the tribal sub-divisions within it by means of a mythical geneology.  Ethnic identity may require a sense of shared history, but that history can be completely fictitious.  And the entire concept of ethnic identity may be an artifact of modern Western culture. Roosens argues convincingly that this is the case, and also argues that ethnic identification is entirely "instrumental", i.e. a response to purely economic motivations.

And this brings us back to the question of the "barbarian" tribes.  The consensus seems to be that all of these so-called "tribes" were in fact large agglomerations of much smaller groups.  Identity is contextual; we all have multiple groups with which we identify, and the salient identity at the moment is determined by the social context in which we find ourselves.  Arguing politics, I am a Democrat.  Touring London, I'm an American.  In church, I'm a really uncomfortable atheist calculating the quickest way to the door.


there never were that many Huns, and they didn't go anywhere.  People called themselves Huns while raiding under Hun direction (economic motivation!), and called (and thought of) themselves as something else at other times.  With the death of Attila, they did their raiding as Magyars, or Alans, or Bulgars.

I am NOT submerging myself into the minutiae of Mitochondrial DNA analysis, and I am NOT going to undertake a comparative study of the Turkish roots of Bulgarian.  Instead, I'll reread Gellner's "Nations and Nationalism".

But, it still itches.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You can have March Madness...

it's playoff hockey time.

Pens Goals For: 3.04 (5th) Sens Goals Against: 2.84 (18th)
Sens Goals For: 2.68 (15th) Pens Goals Against 2.87 (20th)

Advantage Pittsburgh. 5 on 5, it's hard to match Pittsburgh line for line. If you contain Crosby, the following shift you have to contain Malkin. The following shift, you have to contain Stahl. And if by some miracle you manage all that, you've got Gonchar and Goligoski and Letang jumping into the play. Ottawa shouldn't be able to keep up.

Pens Power Play: 17.2% (20th) Sens Penalty Kill: 84.3 (7th)
Sens Power Play: 16.9% (21st) Pens Penalty Kill: 84.1 (9th)

Advantage Neither. The statistics indicate that special teams play shouldn't be much of a factor, with both teams mounting an anemic power play and both having quite good penalty killing units (the Pittsburgh tandem of Stahl and Dupuis being particularly good). I don't believe it. Pittsburgh's power play will be quarterbacked by an entity I call "Playoff Gonchar", a defenseman of enormous talent who appears for only 10 or so games in the regular season. (The rest of the time, his position is filled by "Soft, Pink Gonchar) I think our power play is going to score at will, for the first few games. Ottawa will adjust.

Fleury Save % 90.5 Elliot Save % 90.9

Advantage: Ottawa (marginally). Neither one of these teams should feel good about their goal-tending. A save percentage lower than .91 is average. This should be of particular concern to Pens fans given Fleury's 1) recent meltdown, and 2) propensity for giving up astonishingly soft goals in a couple of the series last year. Fleury's going to win a Vezina someday. But this year, he's making me nervous.

People keep worrying about New Jersey, or Washington.

There are no other teams in the league, except Ottawa. There are no other games except for the one tonight. If the Pens forget that...

it's going to be a long summer with no hockey.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He''ll tell us

whatever will shut us up, but he feels he has to talk tough about NATO to maintain very shaky support at home. He lacks support at home because he stole the election.

What he says about us is only as relevant as we allow it to be. We can do most of what we need to do there by working through the local elders, and ignore Karzai.

He can be the Mayor of Kabul. I just want Bin Laden.

in reference to:

"“If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban,” Mr. Karzai said, according to the Parliament member. A spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Waheed Omar, could not be reached for comment on Sunday."
- News Analysis - Karzai Steps Up Attacks on NATO, Leaving West in a Box - (view on Google Sidewiki)

The Culprits

It's instructive that the premature detonation took place in Sadiyah. My understanding (and I'd welcome any additional information) is that this is a Sunni neighborhood, formerly popular with Baathists. If the bombs were assembled here, it seems likely that these attacks were carried out by them. Combined with the murders of Awakening Council members on Friday (in an operation breathtaking in its audaciousness), it seems probable that we're in for an uptick in sectarian violence in the coming months as a new government is formed.

in reference to: Bombings in Baghdad Aim at Diplomatic Locations - (view on Google Sidewiki)