Scott's Soapbox

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bob Schieffer Asks The Logical Question

On CBS' Face The Nation this past Sunday, host Bob Schieffer asked the Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, the "What if the Iraqis fail?" question James Fallows and myself have been wondering about. After being asked both about Bush's troop surge and the resolutions opposing it now active in the Senate (full PDF transcript here- the relevant portion starts on the bottom of page 6), McConnell responded:
I think I can pretty well speak for virtually all Republican senators when I say this is the last chance for the Iraqis to step up and do their part. This effort to quiet Baghdad is absolutely essential. If you don't have a relatively calm capital city, there's no chance the government can function properly. So this is their last chance. And I think a resolution in the Senate is--that sets up some benchmarks, some milestones that the Iraqi government has to meet--if there is to be a resolution, and I think there will be one--is the best way to go.

All sounds good, right? Their last best chance to succeed. But let's get to some specifics:
SCHIEFFER: Well, how long do they have? When you say this is the...
Sen. McCONNELL: Well, I don't think we...
SCHIEFFER: ...last chance?
Sen. McCONNELL: I don't think we want to put a timetable on it. But
everybody understands that this needs to succeed, and it needs to succeed soon. The definition of success being a capital city calm enough for the government to engage in the kind of political compromises that need to be made. It's pretty hard to engage in political compromise when bombs are going off everywhere. So you have to have some degree of calm before any of this has a chance to work, and it needs to work sometime soon.
SCHIEFFER: Now, you're talking about a resolution that would set benchmarks for the Iraqis. In other words, they have to do X by--will you put a date in that, by a certain time? Or what would those benchmarks be, Senator?
Sen. McCONNELL: Well, General Petraeus said the other day, obviously in a perfect world, he'd prefer no resolution at all. But if we had a resolution that made it clear that the Iraqis were expected to do certain things, it might be helpful to him. It'd give him something to--to--to point to in dealing with the Iraqis. You've got to do this, this and this in order to make this work. So...
SCHIEFFER: But will you put dates into this? They have to do this by...
Sen. McCONNELL: I doubt if we'll have a...
SCHIEFFER: ...April 15th or something?
Sen. McCONNELL: in there, but I think they got the message.

So, to summarize- we have benchmarks without dates...which, of course, is not a benchmark at all, it's merely a wish list. All Mitch McConnell wants for Christmas this year is a political solution in Iraq (and a pony!). I also find the fact that they still have the basic equation backwards in which comes first, the politics or the security situation. The fundamental problem over there is not, and has never been, that their was too much fighting to come up with political compromise. The problem is, since the sides cannot agree on a vision of a future which allows for coexistence, they will not stop fighting. They have no reason to lay down their arms, as there is no peace for the sides to work towards.
Sen. McCONNELL:If someone like me, who's been the strongest supporter of the president you could find in the Senate on this effort, is saying this is the last chance for the Iraqis, I think that ought to help them get the message. This is the last chance.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what happens if it fails then?
Sen. McCONNELL: We're not going to talk about failure, we're going to talk about success. You know, one thing that a lot of people have forgotten is going on offense after 9/11 has been a huge success.

Right then, Bob Schieffer should have stopped the program and told Sen. McConnell that was about the worst evasion he'd ever heard on all his years of broadcasting. Seriously..."We're not going to talk about failure, we're going to talk about success." What a ridiculous statement. Maybe let's not talk about Iraq at all, and just hope it goes away. We may need an answer to that question very soon, and to just ignore it is contemptible. It's an abdication of his responsibility, and our troops deserve better.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Second Life

Maybe I'm not plugged in enough, or maybe I'm not enough of a nerd (depending on how you see it), but I had never heard of this before. This huge virtual world where people can design and build their dreams. Go places they've always wanted to go, take up a job- indeed, there are thriving businesses that make real Earth money, meet and interact with others online. It all sounds really cool, far away are we from total immersion? And once in this new world, might people never leave. I guess I envision someone unplugging from our world to be who they always wanted to be in this one. A haven't bothered to shower in a week, surrounded by unpaid bills and empty pizza boxes kind of existence.

I know if I ever get into a Star Trek holodeck- I'm never coming back out.

Neat Picture From the Hockey All-Star Festivities

Andy McDonald in full flight-

He won the "fastest skater" competition and it looks like it from there. I've never achieved that level of speed, but there's something magical that happens once you get your motor going and start to actually feel the wind.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union

Several people have e-mailed me and asked if I watched the SOTU address last night and what my reaction was. Well, I didn't watch it- I was watching hockey's All Star game festivities- the "Young Stars" game and Skills Competition was last night, the actual game tonight. This President's credibility on Iraq, the main issue which trumps all others for him is almost none. Normally I would watch simply as a student of political theater- but not this year.

Some thoughts I saw worth reviewing are below:

First and foremost- James Fallows in The Atlantic has a very entertaining analysis, where he picks apart the text. His commentary is well worth reading. Fallows responds the the line "First, we must balance the federal budget" with
Pelosi up like a shot! This may have been too risky a line for Bush, since the Democrats are obviously cheering in sarcastic glee, given the spending record of the Republican Congress and Bush’s failure to ever veto a single spending plan. On the other hand, members of the President’s base may need to hear this.
Personally, I figured coming from Bush's mouth this must have been a laugh line, but again I did not see the speech to judge the reaction.

Andrew Sullivan also has some section by section analysis- one highlight is here.
9:52 p.m."Whatever you voted for, you didn't vote for failure." Damn right. But this president gave us failure. He failed in his task of basic competence and decency in the war. That is why the situation in the "here and now" is so grave. Because of his delinquency and arrogance. The American people are not stupid. And their approval rating simply reflects the reality they see.
The prevailing opinion was that he gave a good, but not great speech. Bush was gracious towards the new "Madame Speaker" and struck the correct bi-partisan notes. Most on the right seemed to think he did a good job of laying out the case for Iraq role in the GWOT. These two things, of course, are separate in most Democrats' mind. But Bush has not explained this particularly well in the past, and I thought he did a good job of explaining his position last night.

One logical trap they end up in is the whole idea that our commitment in Iraq is "not open ended" and the Maliki government knows they must succeed this time...or, or, or what, exactly? We'll pull out? But that's failure. We cannot pull out unless they succeed, but if they do not succeed we cannot pull out or chaos ensues. Failure is not an option. Q.E.D. This is a critical corner we've painted ourselves into, with our dependence on the Iraqi government paramount. Fallows describes this dilemma below:
Okay, here is the return of the Gaping Logical Hole. If it’s not open ended, we must be telling the Iraqis to shape up, or else. Or else what? We’ll leave—and bring on all the catastrophic consequences of a failed Iraq the President has just warned us about? Someone in the White House needs to work up an answer to this “Or else what?” question about Iraq.
Are we really comfortable "outsourcing" the entire ability to succeed on this fractured Iraqi government? Some "era of personal responsibility" as Bush spoke about back in 2000. Actually, this idea has become more and more of a conservative talking point about the war- "It's the Iraqis fault it's not working." This is nothing but a shameful evasion of administration responsibility- unworthy of our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for this mission. Fallows is right- someone in the White House needs to come up with some better answers, and soon.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Beautiful Pictures

Via Ann Althouse, this gallery of coloured smoke pictures struck a chord with me. I enjoy art such as this, minimalist, mathematical patterns. Simple, yet stunningly beautiful. Graham Jeffery, the photographer (he disdains the word "artist" as it seems "too fanciful" for him) has a wonderful site up with many interesting works. How does he do the smoke pictures?
Firstly I should point out that the smoke is everyday grey. I have found joss sticks to be the best source of smoke. The smoke is side or back lit and photographed against a black background. If I want the final picture to have a white background then the whole image is inverted, black becomes white, white becomes black, and greys stay much the same. The colouring is done in Photoshop by selecting parts of the image with a highly feathered selection and adjusting the colour with hue/saturation or one of the other colour adjustment tools.

These above reminded me of the work of Peter Saville, mostly noted for his work in design for Factory Records, the home of Joy Division/New Order. These sleeves were all different, no band photos or song titles, simply works of art that packaged the band as something different, like a small club that only certain people would, or could "get." He still works with them to this day and has described the creative/collaborative process with the band as something like "One of them wants it to be red, and another says 'Make it blue.' So I come back with something green and they all hate it- it's quite simple really!" Here are some examples below- the first is the sleeve from "True Faith" the second an independent Saville composition.

Scary News from Serbia

The ultra-nationalist "Serbian Radical Party" won the most votes (28.3%) in their recent parliamentary elections. While these are not enough votes for them to control the parliament, the opposition parties, while being pro-democracy, are divided upon may issues- not the least of which is how close to get towards the West. Part of the danger here is the timing, as a UN report on Kosovo is expected soon, and the Radical party is strongly opposed to Kosovo's independence. It is presumed the UN will recommend independence for Kosovo, and a crisis could be in the making. I remember reading this interesting background article on Kosovo and it's continued ethnic strife over lunch this summer- you can read it here. Unfortunately, while the bombs have stopped dropping- it's still messy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Repost: The False Hope That is Hillary Clinton

Well, Hillary has finally (surprise, surprise) thrown her hat into the Presidential ring today. This seems like a good time to re-post some very prescient commentary by me from back in November, 2004. I'm still right- she still can't win. My line on this has not changed - McCain 53, Hillary 38 would be a good betting line for 2008.

Michelle Cottle wrote a good article in this week's New Republic about the prospects for Hillary in '08. She agrees with me- it would be doom for the Democrats? Why?

Well, let's see- one of the main hurdles as we have all seen is for the Democrats to be comfortable talking about values in a way middle America can understand and relate to. So, I present Hillary, who said back in 1992 (during her husband's campaign!) “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas," she told reporters. "But what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life." Wow, great, tell off stay-at-home moms. When Bill's infidelity came out yet one more time, she said "I'm not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man." Hope folks do not like country music either. Seriously, is their anyone more "blue state" than an uppity female lawyer from New York? Or Illinois? Or Arkansas? Or wherever she moves to to run?

Oh, and her last name is Clinton- Bill is, as we all know, both uniformly popular and ethically clean as a whistle. (Honestly, and I said this back in 1998- she should have left him, been openly hurt that he could do this to her after far so long and come back as her own woman. What if Hillary had, instead of raving about a "vast right-wing conspiracy" trying to drag them down- which is true, but not my point- she had broken down and cried on Katie Couric's shoulder. Her numbers would have gone through the roof and she would have appeared strong. I like Hillary a lot, but if she could never once stand up to Bill, how could she win a war.) She carries so much baggage- some of it her's, some not. Her 1993 health plan was certainly a rousing success as it flew unaltered through Congress.

Michelle estimates that "At minimum, Hillary starts with some 40 percent of the country dead-set against her." I disagree- she has at least 50 percent of the country against her. She has alienated many in her rise to power, and left few friends behind. Now, do not get me wrong- I think Hillary is smart, tough, and has been a good Senator who has served New York well. But then again, I am an elite, East Coast liberal. I am not who the Democrats need to convince. For those that are, Hillary is not the answer.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy

Last night, Teemu Selanne scored his 30th goal of the season, making him the first man to do it this year. It was his 522nd goal (tied 28th all-time) and his 1100th point (52nd all-time). Not bad for a 36-year old. It's now his 9th 30-goal season. As he heads to the All-Star game festivities this Tuesday and Wednesday, where he makes his 10th appearance, I am thankful he's still around for me to appreciate. A few years ago, his career seemed to be winding down. Watching him push himself around on a bad knee during his one season in Colorado was painful. When the next season was wiped out due to a labor dispute, retirement from the NHL seemed likely. Instead, he was able to rest, rehabilitate his knee, on come back stronger than anyone would have suspected. Signing a bargain basement 1-year deal to go back to Anaheim, he delivered a 40-goal, 90-point season, leading the team in scoring in both the regular season and in their surprising playoff run to the conference finals. The NHL awarded him the Masterson Trophy for being "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

This season, he has continued his tear throughout the league and keeps flying down the wing as he attempts to cap off his Hall of Fame career with his first Stanley Cup ring. All the while with a smile on his face, a joke to be had, a autograph ready to be signed. When a week ago he spoke with a close friend of his from home; he learned his friend was dying of cancer. His friend asked him on telephone for a hat trick that night. Selanne laughed, but joked he doesn't do that anymore- having last done it in March of 2001. Of course, he came through that night with 3 in Dallas, including another league-leading 7th game-winner, and the puck is on it's way back to Finland. He's a true class act, and it's a privilege to be able to watch him play.

Of course, opposing goalies in the league might not agree- here's what Dallas' Marty Turco looked like in the game above while getting hat-tricked by Selanne.

Don't worry Marty, it's happened to a lot of you.

Read another nice Selanne appreciation here.

Bush's Approval Rating

Look at this graph of Bush's approval ratings over time. It's astonishing in its' clarity. When you view the similar graphs for our various presidents throughout history, they all go up and down and back again as time moves on. Except for George W. Bush. Bush hovered around 50% until 9-11-2001, when of course he took a dramatic surge, reaching the highest approval number (92%!) ever recorded. We, as a nation, rallied around our president and were ready to support any new direction he took us. After that, as the results of his policies became clear, it is a straight downward trend, unlike any other president. The trend comparable to others is quite dramatic- never before (at least since modern polling) have qwe had a president so convincingly repudiated by his people. It's a sad thing for him, and for the country, so have such a weak president. And no change appears to be in sight- right now, the RCP average has him at 36.6% approve, 60% disapprove and he's been stuck around there for quite some time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 Headline of the Day

"Iran Goes Bananas" is the headline for this story about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to South America, where he met with other anti-American leaders. You might expect, knowing Ahmadinejad, he spouted off some nonsense about how there was no Holocaust, or how they will "wipe the Zionist stain of the face of the Earth," or how evolution isn't real, or some such nonsense. Thus, you know, say something "bananas." Alas, from him, just the usual dreck about how the industrialized nations "the imperialists [that's us] don't like us to help you progress and develop. They don't like us to get rid of poverty and unite people." Right, we all sit around here and make sure the Iranian people are poor. It's our fault your economy is so behind the time that the U.N. refers to it as "semi-developed." Our fault that out of 69 million people, there are only 19 million phone lines, 7.5 million internet users, that you have only 5 FM radio stations, and rely almost entirely on a state-run oil economy. Granted, we're not perfect (sorry about that whole CIA helped overthrow your government thing back in the 50s!) but fix your own problems. At least you don't have to deal with Fox News' headline writers!

(Unless, of course, one of your 5 FM stations is Fox News. In that case, you're screwed.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Poker Results

I have been playing a lot more poker recently, with good results. For Christmas, I got Volume 2 of Dan Harrington's set and it's helped me out a lot. Volume 1 was great is how it makes you think, but I needed to most help with the endgame and smaller tables. Made me a more aggressive player, trying to make sure I have enough chips towards the end. I do well in terms of how often I "cash" in tournaments (typically 3 out of 10 in a sit-and-go or top 10% in a larger tournament) but I often just fade into the money with not much left. I get worried at missing out (bubbling) and play too tight. The big money is not until the final table or so, hence I need to go for it and play for the win. It's helped remind me to be aggressive and given me more confidence.

Anyway, Friday played a big tournament on and finished17th out of 508, which is pretty good. But even better than the finish was the fact that with 27 people left, I was 3rd in chips. I continued to play aggressively, got unlucky a few times and bounced out. But I was very happy with how I played. Last night, at our regular game, I could tell my change in style worked as well. I always have finished even or ahead in that game, but last night I killed the game. By the end, me and one other player had virtually all the money, and I made a tidy profit. I'm excited to play so well but after a very very late night, but I could use a little more sleep as well!

Now for More Important Things...Hockey!

We won our game this week 3-1. It was a quality win against a good team who went .500 last season. Our positioning was much better and we hustled more so I was very happy with the team. We still do a little too much "gliding" and watching the play rather than moving our feet at times, but as a whole we played well. The fact that I scored our last two goals (including one on a penalty shot!) doesn't hurt my assessment of it, either.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

In Iraq- Too Little, Too Late?

That seems to me to be the big question surrounding our efforts in Iraq. I was waiting, I kept an as much of an open mind I think for the President's speech last night. I was not keen on the idea of a troop surge, but I was open to it if I heard a case for it's success- a military case. Instead, after listening last night, reading the proposal (see here), seeing the analysts speak, watching Peter Pace and Bob gates testify today...I come away thinking...what a shame. What a shame we lacked the courage to really see this through. What a difference-maker it could have been, and what a disaster our policy has been to this point. We suffered a failure of will, failure of planning, and a failure of leadership most of all.

The Bush administration knew if they leveled with the American people up front about what it would take, what it would cost, and how long a commitment this would be they could never have gotten the initial support to go into Iraq. So, they didn't. They told us it would pay for itself through oil revenues, that we would be greeted as liberators, that we could do the job with a smaller force, and that the weapons of mass destruction made it imperative that we do this and do it now. (You know this, you're sick of hearing it.) Instead, we tried to do it on the cheap, using just enough troops and resources to lose. The plans were already on the shelf, asking for 400-500 thousand troops. There was a Bush I plan, a Clinton plan, and an initial Bush II plan. All of the above asked for many more troops (see Cobra II, Fiasco, et cetera for more on this) for the occupation phase, not the invasion phase. The Clinton-era plan, I recall, called for over 120,000 troops in the Anbar province alone . Yet instead, thanks to Rumsfeld's hubris, Bush's ignorance, and a Republican party for the most part too willing to play politics with this rather than try to win, we went in with far too few troops to begin with.

Hence, we did not keep law and order. We never had a monopoly on the use of force. We did not restore services to pre-war levels fast enough (now, thanks to the ongoing civil war, these levels have fallen back to way below pre-war status). We allowed weapons caches to be looted, and these same taken explosives are used still every day against our troops. All the while, we heard that freedom is messy, that the insurgency was in it's last throes, and that our Mission was Accomplished. We had just enough troops to lose, just enough to make us targets without enough to really stomp out the insurgency. And here again, we suffered from a lack of political will among the politicians- this time within Iraq.

Despite what the President said last night: "When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation" this never happened. This sentence struck me as surely he knows they did not cast votes for a unified, democratic nation. They cast their votes overwhelmingly along sectarian lines- and a country so divided yields a government so divided that even the army and police cannot be trusted- we hear they have been "infiltrated" by insurgents. The government restricts which groups get cracked down on, and which are allowed to flourish. Malaki is beholden to Moktada al-Sadr to stay in power, and hence al-Sadr- whom, you may recall, we wanted to eliminate at one point- has now become a power broker, and for some (hear the man on the videotape of Saddam's hanging) an alternative. When we say we are going to do something, and fail to follow through, we strengthen our opponents. We have unfortunately done this, again and again, in Iraq.

Having said all this, we are where we are. Iraq is a mess. It is, in the President's finally-getting-closer-to-reality words last night, an "unacceptable" situation which requires us to "change our strategy." Failure would have dramatic consequences for Iraq, the entire region, and all of our foreign policy. Those which favor an immediate pull-out have many questions to answer- and I rarely hear them address, let alone answer, these difficult questions.

What if we "re-deploy" to the horizon and watch as full-scale civil war breaks out, sucking in factions from all across the Middle East. Do we sit idly by while the region engulfs itself in a giant proxy fight to determine which nation, which sect, will be the power center of the Middle East? Can even those governments nominally friendly to us really sit idly by and watch Iran's influence grow? Will we stand by and watch the slaughter of innocents by the millions, ignore a refugee crisis that could be as bad as the Cambodian killing fields?

But what if we stay? How long do we need? How many troops do we need? Can we raise them from our existing forces? The Joint Chiefs are already saying we're near the breaking point. What (and what a shame I still have to ask) constitutes victory? How do we know when we're done? What benchmarks do we have?

I hate how much we are dependent on the Iraqis in order to have any kind of success over there. Obviously, it's their country, so we need them, but I have no trust in a Maliki government which has been thus far unable or unwilling to make the hard choices and make political solutions that stick. Look at this list of tasks for the Iraqis taken from the White House fact sheet about "The New Way Forward":

* Publicly acknowledge all parties are responsible for quelling sectarian violence.
* Work with additional Coalition help to regain control of the capital and protect the Iraqi population.
* Deliver necessary Iraqi forces for Baghdad and protect those forces from political interference.
* Commit to intensify efforts to build balanced security forces throughout the nation that provide security even-handedly for all Iraqis.
* Plan and fund eventual demobilization program for militias.


* The Government of Iraq commits to:
o Reform its cabinet to provide even-handed service delivery.
o Act on promised reconciliation initiatives (oil law, de-Baathification law, Provincial elections).
o Give Coalition and ISF authority to pursue ALL extremists.
* All Iraqi leaders support reconciliation.
* Moderate coalition emerges as strong base of support for unity government.
It all sounds great, right? But are these things really attainable? What evidence is there besides the Administration's suggestions that we have the Iraqis' buy-in for these things? The Bush administration assures us that "this time is different" suggesting that Maliki has had a Come-to-Jesus (Come-to-Allah?) meeting and he knows it's now or never. Yet, is this enough to know that they are willing to do this right now and continue through the next few months in order to give our surge some efficacy. We need to all be working in concert on these various fronts or the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. The Administration and it's supporters frequently claim no political settlement is possible in the prevailing atmosphere of violence pervading Iraq. But without the political process, and at least a promise of better days to come, what is the incentive for insurgents to lay down their arms? There must be carrots as well as sticks, and the rewards are sorely lacking form the White House's proposal.

I wonder cynically if all this specific emphasis on the Iraqis contribution in designed to merely stick them with the blame in case of failure. I hear Bush sympathisers already saying things along of, as Charles Krauthammer put it back in November: "We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it." But we did not hand them a republic, we never "had" it to give to them in the first place. We broke the country, watched it divide along sectarian lines, watched violence increase, watched insurgents and terrorists gain strength, and were unable to stop it. What we "gave" them was a non-traditional civil war, one not even limited by the borders of their "country." (Fareed Zakaria, on the mark as usual, responds here along the same vein.) I sense a day coming up where Bush attempts to evade responsibility with the model of, "Well, they needed to do A,B, and C by X, Y, and Z and they failed so we're out of here." The mess they, and we, are in now was tragically foreseeable, and it has been made unconscionably worse by our own incompetence and ignorance.

However, having said all this, I am forced to reluctantly support this latest troop surge as a final attempt to succeed in Iraq. I'm filled with anger at this awful position our nation is in. As I watched Bush speak last week, I scribbled down "How did we get here? God, how did we get here." I wish we had a better president. I wish it was more troops; I wish it was not such a staggered deployment; I wish we were really going all out to win. As we say in sports, "Go Big or Go Home!" This is part of the doctrine that was once known for General Alexander Haig, then Colin Powell. When we must use our military: use overwhelming force, have clearly defined objectives, and have an exit strategy. In Iraq, we still (maddeningly, still!) have none of these. However we do have so much invested in blood, treasure, in thousands of American troops and their families physically and emotionally scarred. My hopes rest with this new direction to try and make some part of their sacrifice not a vain or empty one.

In all the reading I've done, Gen. David Petraeus (for more, see here or here), our new commander over there stands out as a man of courage and conviction. He is somewhat of a warrior-scholar, learned in the classroom, tested in the field. I'm hoping he can pull a rabbit out of his hat along with those brave thousands of men and women and their families who have paid such a price. I pray this mission can succeed, and our troops can come home and leave behind a free and stable Iraq. If this latest escalation fails, it is time to begin the redeployment out; to mourn our dead and wounded; and to learn these sad lessons of failed wars and failed leadership all over again.

Friday, January 05, 2007

But You're Right, Republicans...

We liberals, we're the crazy/moonbat/shrill/hysterical/America-hating ones who are ruining political discourse:

This above is the current front-page of

Thanks for taking the high-road and raising the debate. If I was Andrew, I might give them a Michelle Malkin award.

Thanks to Wonkette for the link.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An Apology on Comments Not Posting

So, as you can see, this blog has a new look- part of what I found out as I upgraded to the new improved Blogger, was that it had been previously set to "moderate" all comments. So, those of you that commented before- they never got published because it was waiting on me to "approve" them. I never knew they exisited, so I never approved them and hence they just sat in internet limbo, waiting to be rescued. (I think I might have actually turned this on when I was getting a lot of junk mail comments for a while- hey great blog, to lose weight/improve your sec life/work from home go here and send us a bunch of money.) I thought Blogger was supposed to notify me when I had a comment, but I never knew. Anyway, sorry they didn't post, and I hope it's fixed. Thanks for reading, and keep the comments coming- particularly on the new format- I'm not sold on it yet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Patent Overload

I just discovered that now through the magic of Google, one can simply search for patents in an easy, user-friendly way. Although it's not perfect- Michael Agger of Slate writes here "that Google's search engine misses results. Serious inventors will want to use more established methods (or even one of those patent lawyers) to see where their idea stands." Still, the very fact that it's easier to poke around with makes it both a fun conversation piece as well as a highly useful device to at least get started. Still, I remember the old days...

Not to sound too much like one of those old-timers who used to have to walk to school 5 miles uphill both ways with no shoes in the driving snow, but I spent a good part of a summer helping my father work on some patents for a shelving system/clamping bookend system he had (we hoped) invented. Before he got really into it, and got a lawyer involved, et cetera, we looked them up by hand. In those olden days (maybe 11 years ago?) I had to go down to the US Patent Office in Northern Virginia and pore over dusty yellowed pieces of paper. There is a filing system to get you to those patents of some relevance, but it's not perfect so most of my time was spent going through a whole box full of stuff in order to find two or three that seemed slightly relevant. Sometimes I would copy those for further consideration, to see if they needed to be cited in my father's application, or if they had ideas which came close enough that it needed to be made clear how his differentiated. Anyway, despite being a neat experience in both intellectual property rights and government buildings, it was also kind of a pain. Enter the internet and search engines, and exit all the monotony. For as in depth as we were going at that point, Google would have been a perfect tool for us. I guess the young whippersnappers will get to use it, and ignore those like me who can shake their fingers and lecture them about the old days. Ah, progress.

P.S. If you're curious, just try searching for "clamping bookend" and note the first 6 patents that come up. Or, for the truly lazy, just click here. Seriously, that's my Dad right there-how cool is that? And if you want to pay us millions of dollars to manufacture this fabulous idea, just let me know! As Dr. Peter Venkman once said, "No job is too big, no fee is too big!"

More on Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder, Stevie Y, "The Captain," no matter what you call Steve Yzerman, let's just agree he was of the all-time greats. A classy guy both on and off the ice, a leader, a scorer, a champion. The numbers speak for themselves: 692 goals (8th all-time), 1063 assists (7th), 1755 points (6th). But his career was more than just numbers- it was leadership, determination, courage...he was as we say "a hockey player's hockey player" who totally remade himself under coach Scotty Bowman. Always a force offensively- putting up 100 points in 6 straight seasons at one point- he worked hard to become a better defensive player. He helped lead the Wings to 3 Stanley Cups in his tenure as captain during his 22 years for the only franchise he ever played for. I was never a Red Wings fan, but I always respected them. Steve Yzerman played the game the right way.

For more on the classy, private side of Yzerman, see this touching profile from ESPN today, showing how he made such a difference in one little cancer-stricken child's life.

NHL on Versus

As (judging from the ratings) very few of you have noticed, the NHL's national cable contract is through something called "Versus"- the network formerly known as "OLN" or "Outdoor Life Network." Besides hockey, they have the Tour de France, bull riding, and shows where people get involved in horrible crashes filmed on blurry amatuer videotape. It's not exactly Tiffany's of TV stations. Buuuuuuut, they do a pretty good job with hockey- it's nice to know it's on every Monday and Tuesday, they have post-game and pre-game shows, some decent hockey people doing the games, and the production values have gotten better and better. However, their game selection can be frustrating at times.

Tonight for example, which game is on? Chicago "versus" (hence the name) St. Louis. Chicago is 16-7-5 (37 points) St. Louis is 12-19-7 (31 points). Neither team has a big-name star, young up and comer, and they rank (out of 30 teams) 26th (Chicago) and 30th (St. Louis) in offense. They also share in common the fact that both teams have already fired their coaches to try and turn around what would be yet another lost season. Ok, so these teams stink- maybe they were stuck, and there wasn't a better game in that slot? Not so much.

I'll be watching (bless you, NHL Center Ice package) Anaheim (26-7-8 for 62 points) at Detroit (24-9-5 for 53 points) instead. Anaheim is first in points and first in offense (led by sure Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne) in the Conference- Detroit is third in points and fifth in offense while they have given up the fewest goals in the league (thanks to HOF goalie Dominink Hasek and stalwart defenseman Chris Chelios.) Detroit is 13-3-3 at home, Anaheim 13-5-2 on the road. Something has to give there. Plus, it is Steve Yzerman night, where the Red Wings are retiring the sweater of their long-time captain, one of the leagues all-time greats, both on and off the ice. Pretty much if you don't like this game, you don't like hockey. So why the awful Chicago-St. Louis game? I don't know, and I have not heard back from my e-mail to Versus yet, but I know it's not the best one to sell our beautiful game.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The House Democrats' General

This is an interesting article I read in the airport about Rahm Emmanuel, who orchestrated the Democrats' takeover of the House (WARNING: Adult Language). Ryan Lizza, a senior editor at The New Republic (and who, earlier this year, wrote the devasting profile that started George Allen's decline in Virginia) includes a nice mix of inside political baseball and profile. I have read perviously about the feud that exists between Howard Dean and the Rahm Emmanuel/James Carville/old Clinton staffers. They don't see eye to eye on very much: starting with ideology- Dean's liberalism versus the Clintonites centrism. During this campaign, more practical matters arose in terms of how to run the campaign, and how the DNC (headed by Dean) should spend its money.

Dean believes in his "50-state strategy" focused on rebuilding the state party apparatus. Emmanuel wanted to focus the money more specifically on targeted races they thought they could win. While I think the obvious tension is regrettable, I think both strategies have merit, and make it almost a coach/GM argument from sports. Rahm's win-this-election-right-now versus Dean's long-term approach. Although, for the short-term, the Democrats can win withoutmuch of the country, I would argue. Some of those 50 states just may not be our pond to fish in. See Thomas Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie here for details (on my reading list, but not have not read yet).

Richard Clarke's Scary List

Richard Clarke wrote an excellent piece about what is going on with the rest of the world while the Bush administration has been so focused on Iraq to the exclusion of other topics. He argues we've got blinders on while other dangerous and far-reaching changes are occurring:
And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.

National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" -- just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.

Clarke's list is:

Global warming
Russian revanchism
Latin America's leftist lurch
Africa at war
Arms control freeze (weapons proliferation)
Transnational crime
The Pakistani-Afghan border.

He writes:
As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.

It's a scary world out there folks, and I have little confidence that this Administration is doing what we need to be doing right now. Read the whole thing, think about it, and demand answers of your representatives as to what they are doing about these problems. We must not let Iraq take up all the oxygen in Washington or we may wake up in a few years to find that some of these problems have matastasized into major security problems for the United States. We need foresight, initiative, and judgment to deal with the world.