Saturday, February 07, 2009

Shakespeare, the Barred Owl

Here is Shakespeare, the resident barred owl at the Minnehaha dog park. He looks small in this picture, but he's not. I find it really interesting that all dog park people who know about the owl, know that his name is Shakespeare. No one has ever said to me, "Say, there's Bob the owl." Wouldn't you think there'd be some folks who would give him their own name, or be mistaken about the name, or have misheard the name or mis-remembered the name?

S&P History

Doug at has posted another cool graph:

This graph reveals a couple interesting things: 1) the change in the frequency of recessions, as is pointed out in dshort's post; and 2) it looks like if you added a trend line from 1870 to 1950 it would be very nearly flat, but the trend line from 1950 and after is much more sharply upward. I'm wondering (and I expect that Scooter knows) what happened circa 1950 to put this upward trend in motion? And what is the explanation for the dramatic decrease in the frequency of recession after 1933?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Schedules of elected officials

Politico is publishing Obama's daily schedule, to the extent they can. I think the daily schedules of every elected official should be published, including names of people they meet with and the agendas for such meetings. Why wouldn't we voters/taxpayers be entitled to this information? Sure, occasionally there's something that needs to be secret for national security purposes, but other than that, we should know how and with whom every official spends their work day.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cable down at home...

The Time Warner representative asked, "Can you stay home all day Friday and one of our technicians can come by between 7:00 and 7:00?"

"Uh, no," I replied.

"How about between 7:00 and 10:00 Saturday morning? We'll call first."

I sighed, "Better."

Gregg at Commerce

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("the PTO") reports to the Secretary of Commerce, so patent practitioners are wondering what attitudes Sen. Judd Gregg might have towards patents. Patently O reports on Senator Gregg's past activities in the field:
As it turns out, one of Senator Gregg's more controversial actions involves patent issues. In 2000, Gregg's alma mater Columbia University convinced Greg to insert a patent extension provision into an ag spending bill. If it had passed, the extension would have given new life to Columbia's about-to-expire patents that were earning $100 million annually through licensing agreements. [NYTimes][Quinn].

In the past, Senator Gregg has sponsored legislation for rapid approval of generic biosimilars after expiration of the original patents and legislation to extend patents that help support the war on terror. For years, Senator Gregg has also been deeply involved in appropriations.
Apparently, he's all in favor or special patent rules for some. Blech. Watch to see if anyone questions him about these positions during his confirmation hearings.

We patent attorneys have been through a lot the past few years. Under Commissioner Jon Dudas, the PTO sought to radically, wildly change patent rules ostensibly to make the Patent Office more efficient. The new rules were complicated to the nth degree; every patent attorney spent countless hours trying to understand them, attending meetings to learn about them, revamping docketing systems, or paying for revamped docketing systems, to accommodate them. The new rules made no sense. The Patent Office did road shows around the country to explain the new rules, only to demonstrate during the Q&A that they had no answers for all kinds of common real-world scenarios. We railed against them and got organized in ways our professional has never done. We believed the PTO exceeded its authority in enacting these rules, which robbed patent applicants of statutorily-specified opportunities for protecting their inventions. The new rules were in effect for a matter of hours when a suit was brought to enjoin their enforcement and a district court granted the injunction. The new rules were kaput. Here's hoping the new patent commissioner, who will be appointed by the Commerce Secretary, has a deep understanding of the patent system and we don't have to go through anything like this again.

Go Amy

I think you'll be hearing alot from Amy Kobuchar, Minnesota's junior (or maybe now senior) Senator in the coming years and decades. She's smart. She's energetic. I think she's got a chance to be our president 16-20 years from now. Today is a good day to start paying attention to her since she's in the news for being funny:
"No one will beat Rahm," they said, but they turned out to be wrong.

"They" being the folks gathered tonight at the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton for the Washington Press Club Foundation's dinner that marks the beginning of the political prom season, when Hill seniors and freshmen alike get dressed and dolled up to toast, and roast, each other. The bar is pretty low for "entertainment" at these affairs, as it's tough to take good, hard shots at people you have to work with the next day. And there's a big difference, of course, between off-the-record funny and reporters-in-the-room funny. Last year, then-congressman Rahm Emanuel was as a guest speaker — and really nailed it.

But it turns out Sen. Amy Klobuchar is funny. Very funny. Bring-down-the-house funny.
"I'd like to make this as short as Bill Richardson's tenure as Commerce Secretary," she opened. "I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends — true story! I know that is the record in the Senate, but in the house it's held by Barney Frank." Roars of laughter, even from Frank.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Nutrition charts:

I do so enjoy charts and graphs. Here's a site that generates nifty charts and graphics reflecting the nutritional content of what you eat, like this:

You can generate these charts for a single food or for a meal or for a day. It's become a game for me to try to fill in all the purple and white wedges on the Nutrient Balance Score chart. It turns meal planning into a whole different activity than answering the question "What would be fabulously delicious to eat"; instead I think "What would have a lot of Vitamin D". That's got to be good, right?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Nostalgia in my closet

We must get a flyer on our door and/or a phone call once a week from some agency asking for old and used clothes. When we do have stuff for them, not much of it is mine. I keep telling myself that I'll wear that shirt again, or I'll fit into those pants (that used to be my favorite pair) again when I lose some weight, or I can't get rid of that T-shirt because of...whatever.

Well, I've recently accepted the fact that I won't wear certain shirts again, that some of those t-shirts have stains or holes or look like crap and while I might have at one time loved those jeans, getting into them again just ain't gonna happen. So I'm going to do a thorough cleansing of my closet. I'm going to be honest with myself while doing it and truly let go of a lot of stuff.

That being said, some things I won't get rid of. I was looking for a t-shirt to wear today for my daily 2 mile walk. As I was looking for one, I ran across a "Houston Rockets" t-shirt. Next to it was a "Houston Astros" t-shirt. And I reflected back on where they came from.....

When Exxon and Mobil merged back in 2000, I decided to move with my job from Houston to Dallas. It wasn't an easy decision for me, since I had basically lived in Houston my whole life and all my friends were there. And not just friends, but close friends. Really close friends. A few days before I left, they had a party for me. Not a big deal, just this small group of people that were like my family. Like the brothers and sisters that I never had. But more than just semi-siblings. My going away gifts were t-shirts from all of the Houston sports teams - Rockets, Aeros, Astros, Texans and even the Comets. At the time, I don't think I realised or expressed how perfect a gift that was. How touched I was, how much it meant to me to have a connection to "my" hometown teams. I still wear the Texans and Aeros shirts all the time. The Astros and Rockets not as much. And I'll admit now that I never wore the Comets one - I gave it to C.

I don't know whose idea it was - Scott's or Michael's or C's or T's. Maybe all of them. But to whomever came up with the idea and to them all, I don't think I ever told anyone how much those shirts meant to me. How much they still do. How much they always will.

They will be staying in my closet.

Hoping this wasn't a mistake...

by President Obama's vetting team. According to the Weekly Standard, Gregg voted to abolish Commerce in 1995:

President Obama’s new candidate to run the Commerce Department voted in favor of abolishing the agency as a member of the Budget Committee and on the Senate floor in 1995.

I'm hoping that maybe this is part of the President's promise to do away those programs that work not. Bennett couldn't do it under Reagan; maybe Gregg can get it done as a bipartisan effort.

The Sopranos - Season 5

Finished the last episode this afternoon and I have to say that I think this season has been my favorite so far. Not so much because of any particular episode(s), but with the sum of them. And the story-lines were interesting (not just related to Tony's "business"), but in relation to his marriage and his with his two cousins. Since I didn't follow the series as it happened, I have no idea who or when or how many Emmy awards The Sopranos received, but I thought Edie Falco (Carmela), Michael Imperioli (Chrisopher) and Drea de Matteo (Adriana) were really, really good. The questioning of faith, of family, of marriage, of her acceptance of her lifestyle were all a part of the journey Carmela took during the season. And in the end, she went back to Tony - for a large sum of money and with the pledge that his "indiscretions" would not come into their home. Not that he wouldn't stop, but that Carmela wouldn't find out. She had to choose what type of life she wanted and she did.

As I've stated before, I get so much more insight as to why this series is so highly praised from the commentaries. And from those, and especially from the ones in this season, I think I've somewhat figured out the hype. And interestingly (at least to me), it wasn't from a write or director or the creator, but from an actor, Drea de Matteo. She did the commentary on the episode in which she is killed and in between her thoughts about leaving and working on the show, she had some great insights. She talked about how different this series was from a normal tv series. From the music, to the scores (or lack thereof), to the writing, to the acting. She saw each episode not as a part of a series, but each as an independent film. That in most tv series, you can interchange lines between characters and it wouldn't make much of a difference - but with The Sopranos, each character was so well defined and so unique, you couldn't do that. And it's true. They do seem like films, they look like films - they don't look or feel or sound like television.

The other aspect she touched on, which to be honest had been mentioned by others in their commentaries, was how brilliant all the subtle elements are woven together. The subtle humor, the subtle looks or expressions, the subtle way the writers make fun of tv or pop culture, making the characters try to use words or phrases that they mess up or use in the wrong context. In some of these instances, I missed them completely during the initial watching of an episode. Only after watching again, or hearing it brought up, did I catch some.

Drea mentioned, as did David Chase on an earlier commentary, how shocking fans of the show found her death. I didn't - I felt it was a logical conclusion to her storyline. And I didn't find the manner of how she was killed that graphic or sadistic. She did mention that Steven Van Zandt ( whose character kills her) had problems doing the scenes - that he was extremely upset while filming them. I'm not sure why, unless it was more his personal feelings towards Drea the actress and friend.

One more season to go....

Presidential approval ratings since Truman

I love this chart published in the Wall Street Journal for the perspective that it gives of presidential approval ratings over the decades.

The blog Villainous Company has posted at least a couple interesting entries on these graphs: here and here.

VC is politically slanted to the right, so it does its best to put a positive or inevitable spin on Bush II's bad ratings and to not give Clinton credit for a rating that was higher when he left office than when he started which was a singular achievement. Still, I like what he/they did in the second entry, setting wartime presidents apart from peacetime presidents. Apparently we prefer peace.

Holder Confirmation

Per the link thing on the side, today is the anniversary of the 15th Amendment giving ex-slaves enfranchisement. Sweet coincidence for the Holder swearing in as the first African-American AG.

Iranian satellite

This can't be good:

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said on Tuesday it has launched its first home-built satellite into orbit, raising fresh concerns among world powers already at odds with Tehran over its nuclear drive.

"Dear Iranians, your children have put the first indigenous satellite into orbit," a jubilant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on state television after a launch coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

"With this launch the Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space," he said.

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century...

is on my list right now. It's written by George Friedman, founder of Stratfor. I've been posting Stratfor's weekly briefs of late. One of his "predictions" in the book is the likelihood of the rise of Turkey in the coming years as the only non-basket case Muslim nation in the region. I think it has about the 17th largest economy in the world now (confirmed below). I also think that one of the major gun manufacturers/retailers in the US now has a factory there.

Here's Mr. Friedman this week on Turkey:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan exploded during a public discussion with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Erdogan did not blow up at Peres, but rather at the moderator, Washington Post columnist and associate editor David Ignatius, whom Erdogan accused of giving more time to Peres. Afterward, Erdogan said, “I did not target at all in any way the Israeli people, President Peres or the Jewish people. I am a prime minister, a leader who has expressly stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity.”

Nevertheless, the international press focused not on the finer points of Erdogan’s reasoning, but rather on his attacks on Israeli policy in Gaza and his angry exit, which many thought were directed at Peres and Israel. The confusion, we suspect, suited Erdogan quite well. Turkey is effectively an ally of Israel. Given this alliance, the recent events in Gaza put Erdogan in a difficult position. The Turkish prime minister needed to show his opposition to Israel’s policies to his followers in Turkey’s moderate Islamist community without alarming Turkey’s military that he was moving to rupture relations with Israel. Whether calculated or not, Erdogan’s explosion in Davos allowed him to appear to demonstrate vocal opposition to Israel — directly to Israel’s president, no less — without actually threatening ties with Israel.

It is important to understand the complexity of Erdogan’s political position. Ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Turkey has had a secular government. The secularism of the government was guaranteed constitutionally by the military, whose role it was to protect the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — the founder of modern, secular Turkey, who used the army as an instrument of nation-building. The Turkish public, in contrast, runs the gamut from ultrasecularists to radical Islamists.

Erdogan is an elected moderate Islamist. As such, he is held in suspicion by the army and severely circumscribed in how far he can go on religious matters. To his right politically are more hard-line Islamist parties, which are making inroads into Turkish public opinion. Erdogan must balance between these forces, avoiding the two extreme outcomes of military intervention and Islamist terrorism.

Meanwhile, from a geopolitical perspective, Turkey is always in an uncomfortable place. Asia Minor is the pivot of Eurasia. It is the land bridge between Asia and Europe, the northern frontier of the Arab world and the southern frontier of the Caucasus. Its influence spreads outward toward the Balkans, Russia, Central Asia, the Arab world and Iran. Alternatively, Turkey is the target of forces emanating from all of these directions. Add to this its control of the Bosporus, which makes Turkey the interface between the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and the complexity of Turkey’s position becomes clear: Turkey is always either under pressure from its neighbors or pressuring its neighbors. It is perpetually being drawn outward in multiple directions, even into the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has two different paths for dealing with its geopolitical challenge.

Secular Isolationism

From the army’s point of view, the Ottoman Empire was a disaster that entangled Turkey into the catastrophe of Word War I. One of Ataturk’s solutions involved not only contracting Turkey after the war, but containing it in such a way that it could not be drawn into the extreme risk of imperial adventure.

In World War II, both Axis and Allies wooed and subverted Turkey. But the country managed — with difficulty — to maintain neutrality, thereby avoiding another national catastrophe.

During the Cold War, Turkey’s position was equally difficult. Facing Soviet pressure from the north, the Turks had to ally themselves with the United States and NATO. Turkey possessed something the Soviets desperately wanted: the Bosporus, which would have given the Soviet navy unimpeded access to the Mediterranean. Naturally, the Turks could not do anything about their geography, nor could they cede the Bosporus to the Soviets without sacrificing their independence. But neither could they protect it by themselves. Thus, left with only the choice of NATO membership, the Turks joined the Western alliance.

There was a high degree of national unity on this subject. Whatever the ideologies involved, the Soviets were viewed as a direct threat to Turkey. Therefore, using NATO and the United States to help guarantee Turkish territorial integrity was ultimately something around which a consensus could form. NATO membership, of course, led to complications, as these things always do.

To counter the American relationship with Turkey (and with Iran, which also blocked Soviet southward movement), the Soviets developed a strategy of alliances — and subversion — of Arab countries. First Egypt, then Syria, Iraq and other countries came under Soviet influence between the 1950s and 1970s. Turkey found itself in a vise between the Soviets and Iraq and Syria. And with Egypt — with its Soviet weapons and advisers — also in the Soviet orbit, Turkey’s southern frontier was seriously threatened.

Turkey had two possible responses to this situation. One was to build up its military and economy to take advantage of its mountainous geography and deter attack. For this, Turkey needed the United States. The second option was to create cooperative relations with other countries in the region that were hostile to both the Soviets and the left-wing Arab regimes. The two countries that fit this bill were Israel and pre-1979 Iran under the shah. Iran tied down Iraq. Israel tied down Syria and Egypt. In effect, these two countries neutralized the threat of Soviet pressure from the south.

Thus was born the Turkish relationship with Israel. Both countries belonged to the American anti-Soviet alliance system and therefore had a general common interest in conditions in the eastern Mediterranean. Both countries also had a common interest in containing Syria. From the standpoint of the Turkish army, and therefore the Turkish government, a close collaboration with Israel made perfect sense.

Islamist Internationalism

There is a second vision of Turkey, however: that of Turkey as a Muslim power with responsibilities beyond guaranteeing its own national security. This viewpoint would of course break the country’s relationship with Israel and the United States. In some sense, this is a minor consideration now. Israel is no longer indispensable for Turkish national security, and Turkey has outgrown outright dependence on the United States. (These days, the United States needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the United States.)

(click image to enlarge)

Under this second vision, Turkey would extend its power outward in support of Muslims. This vision, if pursued to the full, would involve Turkey in the Balkans in support of Albanians and Bosnians, for example. It would also see Turkey extend its influence southward to help shape Arab regimes. And it would cause Turkey to become deeply involved in Central Asia, where it has natural ties and influence. Ultimately, this vision also would return Turkey to maritime power status, influencing events in North Africa. It is at its heart a very expansionist vision, and one that would require the active support of a military that, at present, is somewhat squeamish about leaving home.

Along with Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt, Turkey is one of only five major powers in the Islamic world with enough economic and military potential to affect anything beyond their immediate neighbors. Indonesia and Pakistan are internally fragmented and struggling to hold together; their potential is largely bottled up. Iran is in a long-term confrontation with the United States and must use all of its strength in dealing with that relationship, limiting its options for expansion. Egypt is internally crippled by its regime and economy, and without significant internal evolutions it cannot project power.

Turkey, on the other hand, is now the world’s 17th-largest economy. It boasts a gross domestic product (GDP) that is larger than that of every other Muslim country, including Saudi Arabia; larger than that of every EU country other than Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands; and nearly five times larger than that of Israel. In per capita GDP, Turkey ranks much lower on the global scale, but national power — the total weight a country can bring to bear on the international system — frequently depends more on the total size of the economy than on per capita income. (Consider China, which has a per capita income less than half that of Turkey’s.) Turkey is surrounded by instability in the Arab world, in the Caucasus and in the Balkans. But it is the most stable and dynamic economy in its region and, after Israel, has the most effective armed forces.

On occasion, Turkey goes beyond its borders. It has, for example, moved into Iraq in a combined air-ground operation to attack units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish separatist group. But it is Turkey’s policy to avoid deep entanglements. From the Turkish Islamist point of view, however, a power of this magnitude under the control of an Islamist regime would be in a position to spread its influence dramatically. As mentioned, this is not what the army or the secularists want: They remember how the Ottoman Empire sapped Turkish strength, and they do not want a repeat.

Erdogan’s Challenge and Turkey’s Future

It is not fair to say that Turkey is a deeply divided society. Instead, Turkey has learned to blend discord. At the moment, Erdogan probably represents the center of the Turkish political spectrum. But he is stuck trying to balance three competing forces. The first is an economy that remains robust and is likely to grow further despite suffering setbacks (along with the rest of the world). The second is a capable military that does not want excessive foreign entanglements, and certainly not for religious reasons. And the third is an Islamist movement that wants to see Turkey as part of the Islamic world — and perhaps even the leader of that world.

Erdogan does not want to weaken the Turkish economy, and he sees radical Islamist ideas as endangering Turkey’s middle class. He wants to placate the army and keep it from acting politically. He also wants to placate the radical Islamists, who could draw the army out of the barracks, or worse, weaken the economy. Erdogan thus wants to keep business, the military and the religious sector happy simultaneously.

This is no easy task, and Erdogan was clearly furious at Israel for attacking Gaza and making that task harder. Turkey was crucial in developing the Israeli-Syrian dialogue. This means the wider world now views Turkey’s leadership as regionally engaged, something its risk-averse military is more than a little touchy about. Erdogan therefore saw Israel as endangering Turkey’s military-civilian power balance and squandering its tentative steps into the regional spotlight for what he considered a pointless operation in Gaza.

Still, Erdogan did not want to break with Israel. So he became furious with the moderator. Whether this was calculated or simply reflected his response to the situation he finds himself in is immaterial. The outburst allowed him to appear to break with Israel decisively without actually creating such a rupture. He thus deftly continued to walk his fine line.

The question is how long Erdogan can maintain the balance. The more chaotic the region around Turkey becomes and the stronger Turkey gets, the more irresistible will be the sheer geopolitical pressure on Turkey to fill the vacuum. Add to that an expansionist ideology — a Turkish Islamism — and a potent new force in the region could quickly emerge. The one thing that can restrain this process is Russia. If Moscow forces Georgia to submit and brings its forces back to the Turkish border in Armenia, the Turks will have to reorient their policy back to one of blocking the Russians. But regardless of what level Russian power returns to over the next few years, the longer-term growth of Turkish power is inevitable — and something that must be considered carefully.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to

Monday, February 02, 2009

Bart Whitaker... still the most popular search for this site. I vote we delete all references. Why is this guy so search worthy?

I hated to put that name in the Title but had to make my preference known.

Constitutional Conservatism

From Andy McCarthy at The Corner, a link to a lengthy article from Peter Berkowitz at the Hoover Institution about the way back for conservatives.

It really is long and I don't recommend for Stephanie or LJ, but if one is looking to see what I feel are the current concerns of the movement, I do so recommend. My main thought of late is that I'm not certain if we still have the wherewithal to moderate liberty.

Re: Republicans in the Cabinet

From the LA Times:

When Obama's interest in Gregg became known Thursday, it created some Republican angst because Democrats are tantalizingly close to a filibuster-proof majority. They hold 56 seats, and the Senate's two independents caucus with them. Democrat Al Franken holds a slim lead in Minnesota's disputed election, and if it stands, he would become the 59th Democratic vote. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to limit debate and hold off a filibuster.

New Hampshire's governor, a Democrat, holds the power to appoint a replacement for Gregg.

Gregg has said he won't take the position unless assured the balance won't change. Even with an assurance from the Governor, I don't know when Gregg's seat is up. [Update: I should have known: 2010.] I'm not sure I like the idea of an appointee rather than an elected incumbent running at at that time.

Republicans in the Cabinet

Several weeks ago, SSJ had a poll to identify the number of Republicans Obama would nominate for his cabinet. I was the only vote that said Obama would have two (that was the highest option in the poll). All other poll-takers voted for zero, if I remember correctly. Obama is about to name Republican Judd Gregg to be Commerce Secretary. Gregg will be the third Republican nominated by Obama. Robert Gates (for Defense Secretary) and Ray LaHood (for Transportation Secretary) were previously announced as Obama's nominees.

Bear markets and has generated a couple of interesting graphs regarding bear markets. This one shows market decline (as a percent from the peak it has just passed) over the course of months:

A second is this one:
This one plots market movement since the 1950s. Click on the blue bands (labeled with year ranges) to see detailed info about each bear market. (The good news here, though not really news, is that the performance of the market over time follows an exponential regression line.)

The site doesn't try to predict what's next for our markets, but it certainly provides some perspective.

[Update: Here is a better post on explaining the second graph.]

Groundhog Day

Here's something I wonder about every year. If the groudhog sees his shadow it means there'll be six more weeks of winter. If, however, he does not see his shadow, what does that mean? More than six weeks or less than six weeks?