Friday, June 29, 2007

Dead Tower Walkin'

Today the city planning commission approved the demolition of the Breuer Tower.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh, but He Built a Windshield for Seamus, So What's the Problem?

What kind of a man puts his dog in cage, straps the cage to the roof of his car, and then drives for hours until the dog shits and it drips all over the windows? 
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that's who

See Kenny Chesney live from a Luxury Suite!

See him?  Does this mean we can't hear him?  Cause that would be the only way I'd want to see him.  From a soundproofed luxury suite.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Cleveland Browns <>
Date: Jun 28, 2007 9:08 AM
Subject: See Kenny Chesney live from a Luxury Suite!

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Kenny Chesney Flip Flop Summer Tour
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Saturday, July 14, 2007


A limited number of suite tickets have just been released - on an individual ticket basis! See the Kenny Chesney Flip Flop Summer Tour live from the most elite viewing areas in Cleveland Browns Stadium - a Luxury Suite. Enjoy catered food (Popcorn, Snack Attack, Salsa Sampler, Jerk Chicken, Citrus Marinate Beef Skewers, Island Chopped Salad and Pulled Pork Sandwiches) and non-alcoholic beverages (assorted Pepsi products) served by your designated Suite attendant as part of your individual suite ticket purchase (alcoholic beverages are available on an ala carte basis). Also included with your individual suite ticket purchase is access to the City View and Lake View Club Lounges.


Suites featuring outdoor seating: $350/suite ticket

Suites featuring indoor seating: $300/suite ticket

Suites stretch above both sidelines, offering unparalleled sight lines of the stage. To gain access to the Luxury Seating area, Suiteholders are ensured time-efficient entry through the preferred Private Suite entrances. An elevator waits to take you to an exclusive concourse designed solely for Luxury Suiteholders. While relaxing in the climate-controlled comfort of your luxury suite sit back and enjoy the wide array of world-class amenities. All suites feature: imported Italian granite buffet, wet bar and drink rail, solid white maple millwork, plush armchairs, custom upholstered barstools, extra-wide cushioned stadium seating, four televisions and an easy access mini-kitchen.


The Cleveland Browns prefer Visa.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Fire Drill

And so the tower workers exited peacefully and orderly...

...and we gathered below, where we tried to listen to the sounds of guitar -- which were mostly drowned out by the sounds of construction by the nearby Avenue project.

...I scored a strawberry fruit bar, handed to me by a woman wearing a lei...

These suckas are still waiting to get inside... or maybe they are just loitering, or enjoying the sunny day and the sounds of guitar and heavy machinery.

I actually hear the guitar much better up here than I did outside. He's playing Four Dead in Ohio again. Fruit bar was yummy. You know I ate it before I posted the pics.

It's time!!!!

Time to head for the stairs!
I hear guitar!!!


Still Waiting...

The view from my office window ... there are already people sitting under the trees in the boulevard to get the shade for the fire drill. It is the event of the year and you have to stake out your ground early.
The umbrellas in the bottom of the picture -- that's where the ice cream is. Last year they had ice cream sammies and fruit bars. I wonder what goodies they'll have this year.
The umbrella closer to the road -- that is where the guitarist is set up. No fire drill in complete without live music. In the event of a real fire, we have to sing our own songs. And that would literally suck.
They don't check building IDs when they hand out the ice cream. Come on down to the Erieview Tower and act like you work here!

Fire Drill Anticipation

Today the sign was hanging up by the elevators that there would be a fire drill today.  I suspected that there would be, because we had one last year around this time, and I even blogged about it.  Last year they gave us ice cream.  And sure enough, looking out my window, there is an umbrella with an ice cream cooler set up. 
But today there is an added attraction.  There is a second umbrella set up with a guitarist warming up underneath it.  They are going to play live music for us!  The dude is out there jamming, I can hear him on the street below even from my office window.  OMG, he is playing "Four Dead in Ohio."  How festive!
Dammit I wore all black today, and left my sunglasses in the car.  And I'm going to have to stand outside for half an hour?  Shit, I hope they sound the alarm soon.  Maybe I'll just go to my car and drive somewhere for lunch.  I don't need free ice cream, or carribean guitar dude playing his funk version of CSNY Vietnam protest music.

Tuesday Talkback

First of all -- the online Monday Moaning was called "Monday Moanind" this week. Really, check it out. Slackers.

"Can the media and people stop it with the over use and abuse of the word literally? I literally hear it dozens of times a day. The word literally comes up in conversations when there literally is no need for it. Literally this, literally that. Enough already!! I'm literally going crazy!!!!" - Medina

There is literally a whole blog on the use of that word. Is it overused? Yes. Is it the only word we overuse for emphasis? REALLY, no. Literally has been literally abused for centuries, and by some fine authors, too. What is so troubling (or perhaps amusing) about the word is that people use it to emphasize the figurative. He's literally been hanging around the house all day. What, on a meat hook?

"I think that the police union on the whole are deceiving themselves and the public by allowing their policemen to be so fat and out of shape. I don't think most of these guys could run 100 feet to catch someone, and I think it's a disservice to taxpayers." - Sagamore Hills

Perhaps a certain young blond baby mama would be alive today if Mr. Cutts was literally too fat to catch her. The Jesse Davis story was literally on Countdown last night on MSNBC. Great, we have our very own Scott & Laci Peterson story, literally right here in Northeastern Ohio, literally complete with dead baby literally in utero.

"When it was the Catholic church being chastised and investigated, it was always on the front page. Let's be fair. Abuse in the Protestant churches was on page 13. I don't call that fair." - Cleveland

That's because the one true church gets the front page. Those other heathen churches get literally tucked away inside.

"Cleveland baseball fans are so stupid. How can they boo the former Indians pitcher Jose Mesa after he saved more than 30 games for us in 1997? Doesn't that count for anything?" - Solon

The Tribe won 86 games that year and finished 6.5 games ahead of the White Sox to win the Central Division. Sure, Mesa can take some of the credit. But Mesa must also take the blame for throwing away the lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Who does that? Jose Mesa, that's who. Goat. And I blame Grover for putting him in. Everyone in the stands knew, everyone watching the TV knew. I knew. I knew that Mesa was going to blow it. I remember where I was. I was at SlamJams in Lakewood. They literally tore it down and built a CVS there, but I digress. We were all screaming at the TV, no! Don't put in Mesa! But Grover always played the numbers, never the gut. And so he put Mesa in. And Mesa allowed the tying run, and we went into extra innings. Literally took the wind right out of our sails. Instead of closing the game and winning the series, the Tribe went on to lose in the 11th inning, when Edgar Renteria hit the ball at Charles Nagy, and it bounced off Nagy's glove to center field. So why is Mesa the goat and not Nagy? Because Nagy was a starting pitcher, and it wasn't his job to save ballgames. It was Mesa's job. And Mesa blew it. He LITERALLY blew it. Jose Mesa is the goat. And so those saves he did in the regular season, at the moment of truth, he blew it. So, no. No credit. Goat. Literally a goat. I mean, he can't pitch anymore because ever since game seven, he has a cloven hoof where his hand would be.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

A Bacher Acts Like an Ass, Gets Off Anyway

No, not the Mr. Bacher we all know and love, but some other Bacher.  I assume he isn't related.
Here is the case.  Be sure to read Paragraph 4, which could be titled "Things not to say at a traffic stop when you've been drinking."

The court proclaimed that "The Fourth Amendment Applies Even to Fools."  True, that.

Recycling is pretty much a waste...

This came up over the weekend, so here are some enlightening articles on the wasteful myth of recycling.

Here is a great article that ran in the New York Times Magazine in 1996, Recycling is Garbage
Apart from some touchy feely feel good about mother earth sorta stuff, there is little point in it.
Especially when it comes to glass bottles.  Glass is made out of sand.  We are not running out of sand.
Now I want to be clear about this: reducing what we use and reusing what we use are still good ideas.  Driving a more fuel efficient car, and driving less -- still good ideas.  But rounding up a bunch of bottles, washing them out, and sending them to some processing facility to be recycled -- when it costs less and uses less energy to make new bottles -- just makes no sense. 

Friday, June 22, 2007

Family Cir-cuss

Doesn't it appear that Jeffy is about to show Dolly the difference between a bottom and a top?

This disturbs me greatly.

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A Smart Kid

Stranded here on planet earth
It's not much but it could be worse
Everything's free here, there's no crowds

Winter lasted five long years
No sun will come again I fear
Chemical harvest was sown

And I will wait for you
Until the sky is blue
And I will wait for you
What else can I do?

A spaceship from another star
They ask me where all the people are
What can I tell them?

I tell them I'm the only one
There was a war but I must have won
Please take me with you.

--Steven Wilson

Cool Catholicism

One way to be Catholic and cool -- make it subversive and do it on the sly. 
Tony Blair is about to convert to Roman Catholicism.  It is news to me, and that is the point it would seem.  He has long attended Catholic services (who knew?), whether at church or done privately.  Apparently it has been an issue from time to time while he was Prime Minister, and only now that he is stepping down is he actually going to proceed with formal conversion.  All these years after the Tudors and the creation of the Church of England, and England is about to have a former PM who is Roman Catholic. 


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why HELLO Mayor Bloomberg!

Today's most interesting political development is the decision of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to shed his GOP party affiliation. No big whoop, he shed his Democratic party affiliation and adopted the GOP label only to run for mayor anyway.

Aides to Bloomberg have been encouraging speculation that he may jump into the 2008 presidential race as an independent. The billionaire can bankroll it himself, if he so chooses.

The speculation is already all over the web. The safe response is to say he can't win, that no third party candidate has ever won the presidency. Even Ross Perot, for all of his bluster in 1992 and 1996, never won a single state in the electoral college.

But what happens if the Democrats nominate Clinton and the Republicans nominate Guiliani, and Bloomberg jumps in? Who wins New York then?

And really, I don't have to know much about Bloomberg to know that he ain't the other two. Granted, "I'm not him" did not work for John Kerry. Can "I'm not them" work for Michael Bloomberg?



Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hideous Tower to Meet Hideous Fate?

The 2-1 vote by the Cuyahoga County Commissioners to tear down The Cleveland Trust Tower -- the only Marcel Breuer skyscraper ever built -- has now caught the attention of the New York Times.

This building has been empty for years. I even remember looking at that building from Jacobs Field -- when it opened in 1994 -- and thought, when are they going to raze that monstrosity? And 17 years later, it is now the subject of debate by architectual enthusiasts and preservationists. (Guess they shouldn't have waited so long!)

I had no idea, until I read the NYT article, that it was Breuer himself who, back in the day, had designed a skyscraper that was to have been built on Grand Central Station in New York City. That skyscraper was never built, because preservationists stepped up and saved Grand Central Station. So the question is, does this tower deserve preservation.

It is dog ugly. No doubt about it. Brutal and dirty looking, it always has been. And yet it a marvelous example of brutalist architecture. (Which is a little like saying, that is a marvelous bottle of White Zin.) Indeed, the Breuer Tower (as it is coming to be called, to put the emphasis on the renowned architect and not the bank long ago absorbed by Society n/k/a KeyBank), was but one of a pair of twin towers that were envisioned, the twin never having been built. Funny how the lone twin has a lot of the same featureless hideousness that New Yorkers used to use to describe the World Trade Center.

But compared to say, Manhattan, Cleveland has plenty of space upon which to build. My goodness, we have surface parking lots at Public Square. The reason why is a whole 'nother story -- 1 and 33 Public Square were torn down in anticipation of a new Ameritrust Building (Ameritrust being the old Cleveland Trust), but Ameritrust merged into Society Bank before construction actually started. The land, now cleared, became surface parking -- a big gaping hole in the middle of downtown Cleveland.

Maybe such prime real estate should not be used for a government building -- never mind it has been used for parking for going on twenty years -- and a new consolidated county government building is what the commissioners want to build where the Breuer Tower presently stands. And while the East Ninth-Euclid corner could use the increased activity that moving the county offices there would bring (and notably at the expense of the several buildings where the offices presently are), that part of downtown would get the benefit of that move whether they renovated or replaced the Breuer Tower. Presently, the estimates I've read about, both in the NYT is that it would be slightly less expensive to renovate versus raze and rebuild.

So, for the time being, I vote to save the Breuer Tower. Yeah, its ugly. Like a brutalist building should be. And it is the work of a significant architect. The county should either renovate the tower or build elsewhere. Renovating would be ideal -- I tend to think the thing only looks so bad because its been empty for so long. Just turning on the lights might make the thing come to life.

Besides -- the Breuer Tower is NOT the ugliest building in town. The day they implode The Justice Center, I want a hardhat and a front row seat. I hope I live to see that.

(Thanks to Really Bad Cleveland Accent for the link to the NYT story.)

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Tuesday Talkback

Yesterday was a great day. It started out great and stayed great. I kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, but no. It seemed as if the stars had all aligned in my favor -- if you believe in such things.

I don't believe in blogging about my work. There are lots of reasons why. Certainly if I were careful to preserve confidences and so on, I could blog about my work in an effort to market my services. And I've considered it. Perhaps I will still try that. But not today. Suffice it to say, good things are happening at work. I'll just leave it at that.

But because I am feeling so good, I really don't feel like summoning up the bile to talk back to the Monday Moaners today. Sorry, but I am taking a mental health day. I'm calling in well.


Friday, June 15, 2007

CAVS Swept

Well, did we really expect the Cavs to be there in the first place?  I wish they'd have won.  I wish they'd have won even one game.  But the Cavs are still a team on the rise.  In the Eastern Conference, while they've got Chicago and Miami to worry about next year, but this is a team that could well be back, and be better for the experience of now having been to the finals before.
The other day I compared a Cavs sweep to The Drive, etc.  But it isn't really the same.  In those games, the Cleveland team was heavily favored to win, and was moments away from victory when it all came crashing down.  The Cavs weren't favored.  But they were competitive in these games even if they didn't win any of them.  
It creates a tall order for next year.  Having been to the finals this year, in order to have a more successful season next year, they must return to the finals next year and win.  Can they do it with this personnel?  Will they make any key additions that will help push them over the top?  Or can they do it with the group of guys they have now? 

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dan Chaon, Sportswriter

Gina just shared with me this article from the Post by local author, Dan Chaon.
Beautifully written as always.  It ran on the 10th -- back when it still looked as if the Cavs had a chance.
But then I see my son and his friends, avidly reading stats and comparing notes on players, all of them wearing that T-shirt with the Cav's Psalm-like motto: "Rise Up!" All of them waiting ardently, eagerly -- as if their hearts can never be broken.
But Dan, we are in Cleveland.  And while, I, like you, live here because I choose to live here, not because I have to -- I will tell you -- that heartbreak over sports is just part of growing up in Cleveland.  Having our hopes dashed, our hearts swollen with passion, only to have them torn out and stomped on.  Whether it be by a toothy quarterback from a mountain state, or the player that inspired LeBron to wear the number 23, or be it by one of our own -- throwing it all away at the goal line or in the ninth inning of game seven. 
Indeed, I was your son's age when John Elway orchestrated The Drive.  Till the day I die I will never forget that.  And know that whatever happens in this series, for the rest of his life, your son will remember this moment.  Amazing, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rush Opening Night Set List, Snakes & Arrows Tour -- Atlanta, 6/13/07

This just in from Atlanta ... Opening night on the Rush Snakes & Arrows tour, and here is the set list:

Digital Man
Entre Nous
Free Will
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl
Secret Touch
Between The Wheels


Far Cry
Working Them Angels
Armor and Sword
The Way The Wind Blows
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Malignant Narcissism
Drum Solo
Summertime Blues
The Spirit of Radio
Tom Sawyer


One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok

* * *

Nine songs off of the new album. About one third of the whole show! Damn, I wish I liked S&A a little more!

But... some fantastic classic tunes! Including some I've never heard live!

Digital Man, Entre Nous, Mission, Circumstances, Witch Hunt and Passage to Bangkok! I am very excited about those! And I love that Between the Wheels is back!

Yeah, maybe I wish they'd drop a couple of the newer ones -- and work in a couple of other oldies...

But I am overall pleased with this set list! (Except maybe 5 songs in a row from the new album to open the second set.)

Now the question is, will they change it up over the tour? I won't be seeing them till August. I wonder if they'll have changed it around by then...

In a way, I hope they don't. Unless they rotate different songs in on a night to night basis. Because when I see three shows in row in August, then maybe I'll see things rotate in and out.

But last tour, they didn't change the set list at all. And the tour before that, they had a couple songs that would alternate on certain nights, and a couple that got swapped in and out later in the tour.

Still, I am looking forward to this show. I hope that the new album grows on me so I'll enjoy the new songs... Otherwise the five songs that open the second set is a VERY long bathroom break.


down 3 games to nothing

Red Right 88
The Drive
The Fumble
The Shot
The Move
The Closer
...The Sweep?
LeBron is young... but so was Dan Marino when the Dolphins lost Super Bowl XIX.  You can never assume that you will get another chance to win.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tuesday Talkback

The online edition has FOUR PAGES of moans.

Gina suggested to me yesterday that these moans can't be for real, and that they must be made up. I know they are real to some degree (or at least were at one time), because back in 2001 they ran one of mine. Yes, I actually phoned in a moan, and they printed it.

My moan was about people who don't know how to ride an escalator. I used to live at Shaker Square and I would take the rapid to work every day. Once I got to Terminal Tower, if I didn't run right out of the train, I'd get stuck behind all these idiots on the Tower City escalator who don't know or don't care that when you ride an escalator, you should stand to the right to allow people to walk to the left. And it doesn't just happen there. It happens at the airport too, where people who travel ought to know better.

Heck, it happened to me at Target just the other day. I'm trying to round up the last of my items and these two able bodied young women are riding the escalator side by side instead of standing right. This isn't Geauga Lake, people. It isn't a thrill ride. It is just a means to an end, a conduit.

In other cities, larger cities, east coast cities, people get this. The ones that don't are tourists or idiots. And when I lived in DC, and people did this on the Metro escalators, I would take a tone with them like the other locals. "Excuse me! Stand right! Excuse you! Fucking tourist."

And maybe they learned from the experience, or maybe they didn't get it. Maybe they didn't understand why people kept yelling at them. Even when I yelled, I don't claim that I was trying to reason with them or educate them in the traditional way. I was just trying to get them to move over, and it worked every time.

But looking at some of this week's moans -- some of them aren't even that coherent.

"Can we do something about the idiots that sit at ballgames with cell phones in their hand, waving at people all the time? I think they should throw them out for causing interference." - Eastlake

I think of interference as doing something to affect the game -- such as throwing your cell phone at someone on the field of play. But somehow, someone talking on the phone and waiving at someone else several sections over somehow ruins this guy's ability to enjoy a baseball game. You know what this guy should do? Hold his breath, lest he breathe in the air exhaled by other men.

This is priceless:

"To the North Olmsted moaner who referred to the smoking ban as reminiscent of Nazi Germany: The smoking ban is actually democracy in its purest form; the people given the right to vote on something they want. I don't think the people of Nazi Germany were given that opportunity; so now who is the moron? - Parma Heights

You are the moron, Parma Heights. The German people elected the Nazis to the Reichstag. Hitler, as chancellor, invoked Article 48 of the Weimar constitution to suspend civil rights after the fire at the Reichstag, and he ruled by decree. Yes, this summary leaves out the passage of the Enabling Act, etc. but you get my point: The people elected the Nazis to the German parliament, and the Nazis used the color of law and democracy to pass anti-democratic measures democratically and subvert the democracy.

"Shame, shame, shame on Orrville police. My grandson and I were belted in and were pulled over for a check. I get a ticket because they changed the rules. You have to be 4 years old to sit in a booster seat. Scared the heck out of my grandson and he saw his grandfather cry, and I got a ticket to boot." - Seville

This is another one of those moans that is borderline incoherent. You have to be four years old to sit in a booster seat? What, was the kid 15 and sitting in a booster seat? Or do you actually mean that the kid should have been seated in a booster seat but wasn't? In which case, how is it the policeman's fault -- that he enforced the law? And how did he make you cry? So you are some wussy crybaby grandpa who doesn't follow the law, and this is the Orrville's police's fault. Fine lesson you've taught your grandson there. Idiot.

"It is just a shame that some of our great athletes in the city cannot set an example by marrying the girls they get pregnant." - Rocky River

So LeBron is having a second baby with his girlfriend. The same girlfriend who is the mama of his first baby. And so this moaner is complaining that LeBron should marry his baby mama. I say, rise up go LeBron. You are 22, you have more money than most people will make in a lifetime, and as long as you take provide for your babies, why risk your fortune on a marriage that may well not work out? This is just one more reason why this kid is smart. As for whether he is setting an example, I say yes, he is, and good for him. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to get married. If you want to be married, then get married. If you don't, then don't.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Creationist Museum

Excellent account here of a visit to Kentcuky's newest museum, complete with photos.

Like a Whole New Room

Thanks to Mr. B, BK and Ray -- I slept in my master bedroom last night for the first time since I moved into the house.  The bed, being too large to clear the stairwell, went up through the roof over the screen porch -- which was not that hard with the help of many hands.  We had some brats and franks on the grill to celebrate, and to thank them for their help.
It was strange waking up in there this morning.  Strange in a good way.   

Friday, June 08, 2007

Forget Iraq -- Bush Needs to Withdraw from Whole Foods

Merger mania was ok till the moment Whole Foods tried to gobble up Wild Oats.  The FTC has filed suit to stop it. 
I shop at Whole Foods in University Heights all the time.  Great place, but let me tell you -- its prices are high regardless of whether they buy the Wild Oats over by the Trader Joe's in Woodmere.
Now, if they tried to buy out Trader Joe's, I think that would be different. 


One of my favorite sports writers, on the Cavs reaching the Finals, and the pathos of Cleveland sports.

Bill Clinton Still Has It

Bill Clinton's commencement speech.

Now That's He's Learned All This, Time to Go...

JDG forwarded this to me and I am please to shared it.

Tony Blair

What I've learned

May 31st 2007
The Economist print edition





Tony Blair reflects on the lessons of his decade as Britain 's prime minister

Get article background

TEN years ago, if you had told me I would spend a significant part of my premiership on foreign policy, I would have been surprised, a little shocked and probably, politically, somewhat alarmed. Even today, we all run for office concentrating on domestic issues. "Foreign" policy rarely wins votes, and can easily lose them. Yet nowadays the reality is increasingly that we are obliged as leaders to think, work and act internationally.

Over ten years I have watched this grow. (If you had told me a decade ago that I would be tackling terrorism, I would have readily understood, but thought you meant Irish Republican terrorism.) The line between "foreign" and "domestic" policy is being blurred. Climate change is a big issue in developed nations' politics today. It can be beaten only by global action. What happens today in Pakistan matters on the streets of Britain. Mass migration can only partially be managed by individual nations' internal policies. Economies are shaped by forces of globalisation.

On top of this, the world order is changing. The political power of China is emerging as its economic power grows. India will be formidable. Japan is putting its past behind it. Russia is becoming more assertive by the day.

In this age, foreign policy is not an interesting distraction from the hard slog of domestic reform. It is the element that describes a nation's face to the world at large, forms the perceptions of others to it and, in part, its perception of itself.

We all talk of interdependence being the defining characteristic of the modern world. But often we fail to see the fundamental implications of such a statement. It means we have a clear self-interest as a nation in what happens the world over. And because mass media and communication convey powerful images in an instant across the globe, it dictates that struggles are fought as much through propaganda, ideas and values as through conventional means, military or diplomatic.

My reflections, based on this analysis, are these:

1. Be a player not a spectator

Over the past ten years, Britain has been in the thick of it. There is no international debate of importance in which we are not as fully engaged as we can be.

We have attempted to construct the broadest possible agenda that is capable of unifying the international community and is, overtly, values-based. That is why action on poverty in Africa, a good outcome to the world trade talks and agreement on climate change all matter beyond the obvious importance of each individual issue. They are indicative of an attitude, of responsibility to others, an acceptance that international politics should not be simply a game of interests but also of beliefs, things we stand for and fight for.

It is also why we should be prepared to intervene, if necessary militarily, to prevent genocide, oppression, the deep injustice too often inflicted on the vulnerable. Britain, in the past decade, has intervened four times: in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq . In each case, regimes of appalling brutality were removed.



Lessons from the Balkans


Earlier this week I visited the people of Sierra Leone, still struggling, but at least able to contemplate a better future. But as important is the next-door state of Liberia, now properly democratic. It might never have been so had Sierra Leone fallen into the hands of the gangsters. Similarly, as a result of Kosovo, the Balkans changed. Countries there can think of a future in the European Union.

So when we come to Darfur , do we really believe that if we do not act to change this situation, the violence will stop at the borders of Sudan? In the early 1990s we could not summon the will to act in Bosnia. It took 250,000 lives lost before we realised we had no option.

It is said that by removing Saddam or the Taliban—regimes that were authoritarian but also kept a form of order—the plight of Iraqis and Afghans has worsened and terrorism has been allowed to grow. This is a seductive but dangerous argument. Work out what it really means. It means that because these reactionary and evil forces will fight hard, through terrorism, to prevent those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed, we should leave the people under the dictatorship. It means our will to fight for what we believe in is measured by our enemy's will to fight us, but in inverse proportion. That is not a basis on which you ever win anything.

However, the critical point is that we, Britain, should be closely involved in all these issues because in the end they will affect our own future. And the agenda constructed should be about our values—freedom, democracy, responsibility to others, but also justice and fairness.

2. Transatlantic co-operation is still vital

I have real concern that on both sides of the Atlantic there is, in certain quarters, an indifference, even a hostility, to an alliance that is every bit as fundamental to our future as it has been to our past. By this I don't just mean the rampant anti-Americanism on parts of the left. In a sense, that is relatively easy to counter.

It is more a drifting away, occasionally a resurgent isolationism that crosses right and left. In Britain now there are parts of the media and politics that are both Eurosceptic and wanting "an independent foreign policy" from America. Quite where Britain is supposed to get its alliances from bewilders me. There is talk of Britain having a new strategic relationship with China and India bypassing our traditional European and American links. Get real. Of course we will have our own relationship with both countries. But we are infinitely more influential with them if we have two strong alliances behind us.

In Europe we wonder: is it worth it to continue such reliance on America ? We would be better asking whether the political leaders in America still see Europe as their first port of call.

For all our differences, we should be very clear. Europe and America share the same values. We should stick together. That requires a strong transatlantic alliance. It also means a strong, effective and capable EU. A weak Europe is a poor ally. That is why we need closer co-operation between the nations of the EU and effective European institutions. In a world in which China and India will each have a population three times that of the EU, anything else is completely out of date.

3. Be very clear about global terrorism

I fear the world, and especially a large part of Western opinion, has become dangerously misguided about this threat. If there was any mistake made in the aftermath of September 11th, it was not to realise that the roots of this terrorism were deep and pervasive. Removing the Taliban from government seemed relatively easy. Removing their ideology is so much harder. It has been growing for over a generation. It is based on genuine belief, the believers being people determined to outlast us, to be indefatigable when we are weary: to be strong-willed and single-minded when we have so many other things to preoccupy us (and when the comforts of our Western lives seem so untouchable by the activities of what are naturally seen as a few fanatics).

People make much of the fact that in each area of conflict, the extremists take a different shape. They point to the historical absurdity of, for example, Iranian elements linking up to the Taliban. Above all, they say, their weapons, numbers and support are puny compared with ours.

This misses the central point. Revolutionary communism took many forms. It chose unlikely bedfellows. But we still spent decades confronting it.

This new terrorism has an ideology. It is based on an utter perversion of the proper faith of Islam. But it plays to a sense of victimhood and grievance in the Muslim world. Many disagree with its methods. But too many share some of its sentiments. Its world view is completely reactionary. But its understanding of terrorism and its power in an era of globalisation is arrestingly sophisticated and strategic.

It means that it can go into any situation where peace is fragile or conflict possible. It can, by the simple use of terror, break the peace and provoke the conflict. It has worked out that in an age of mass media, instantly relayed round the world, impact counts: and nothing makes more impact than the carnage of the innocent. It has learned that as states respond to terror so they can, unwittingly, feed it.

In the Middle East right now, it stops progress in Iraq . It defies the attempts at peace between Israel and Palestine . It is making Lebanese democracy teeter on the brink. That is significant in itself. But far more significant is the way in which the terrorists have successfully warped our sense of what is happening and why. They have made us blame ourselves.

We can debate and re-debate the rights or wrongs of removing Saddam. But the reality is that if you took al-Qaeda (in Iraq before Saddam's fall) out of the conflict in or around Baghdad, without the car bombs aimed at civilians and the destruction of monuments like the Samarra Shrine, it would be possible to calm the situation. Events in Anbar Province, where slowly but surely Sunni opinion is turning on al-Qaeda, show it. And down in Basra, what is poisoning the city is the violence and criminality of Jaish-al Mahdi and other groups—supported, financed and armed by elements of the Iranian regime. Remove al-Qaeda, remove the malign Iranian activity, and the situation would be changed, even transformed.

The truth is that the conflict in Iraq has mutated into something directly fuelled by the same elements that confront us everywhere. Yet a large, probably the larger, part of Western opinion would prefer us to withdraw. That is the extraordinary dulling of our senses that the terrorism has achieved. In the Palestinian question who gets the blame for lack of progress? The West. In Lebanon —a crisis deliberately provoked by, again, the same forces—who is held responsible? Israel .

In Afghanistan it is clear that the Taliban is receiving support, including arms from, again, elements of the Iranian regime. They have learned from elsewhere. They believe if they inflict enough chaos, enough casualties of Western soldiers, we will lose the will. It will become another "mess". And if it does, the problem will be laid at the door of the Afghan government and its Western allies.

In the past few weeks alone we have seen terrorist bombs in Morocco, Algeria , Pakistan , India , and arrests in Saudi Arabia . Not a single major European nation is immune. In Africa , Sudan, Somalia, even in places like Nigeria where Muslims and Christians live together, terrorism is active.

There is no alternative to fighting this menace wherever it rears its head. There are no demands that are remotely negotiable. It has to be beaten. Period.

4. We must stand up for our values

We will not succeed simply by military or security means. It is a political challenge. Terrorism recruits adherents on the basis of an appeal to human emotion. It can be countered only by a better, more profound, well-articulated counter-appeal.



Being a player


But this won't happen unless we stand up for our own values, are proud of them and advocate them with conviction. There is nothing more ridiculous than the attempt to portray "democracy" or "freedom" as somehow "Western" concepts which, mistakenly, we try to apply to nations or peoples to whom they are alien. There may well be governments to whom they are alien. But not peoples. Whoever voted to get rid of democracy? Or preferred secret police to freedom of speech?

These values are universal. We should attack the ideology of the extremists with confidence: their reactionary view of the state; their refusal to let people prosper in peace; their utterly regressive views on women. We should condemn not just their barbaric methods of terrorism, but in particular attack their presumed sense of grievance against the West. We need to support and help mobilise moderate and true Islam in doing so. There is nothing more absurd than the idea that removing the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Saddam and his sons in Iraq, and replacing their regimes with the chance to vote, supervised by the UN, is somehow an assault on Muslims. We should point out that those killing Muslims by terror are actually other Muslims and that doing so is completely contrary to the teachings of the Koran.

But, and it is a mighty but, such an approach only counts if it is applied vigorously and in a manner that is even-handed. Here is where I have always felt that the normal politics of left and right are a hindrance. The trouble is that the right is correct on the need to stand firm militarily and in support of freedom; and the left is correct on the need for justice.

The assault on the ideas behind terrorism won't work unless it is seen to be motivated and stirred by a commitment to justice. That is why trying to resolve the Israel-Palestine dispute is so important—not only for its own sake, but because the absence of peace causes suffering that is exploited by this extremism. Ask yourself why parts of the Iranian regime try so hard to prevent a settlement; and then understand why it is crucial to settle it.

We are faced with a challenge derived from a world view. We need our own world view, no less comprehensive but based on the decent values we believe in.

5. It's about tomorrow's agenda too

The importance of such an agenda is that it allows us also to shape the common value system of a world in which, very soon, the new powers and interests will have the strength to influence greatly the path the world takes. So such an approach is a bulwark against extremism but it is also a civilising force in a future in which Western economic and political weight will be less than hitherto. We need a sufficiently strong basis, founded in a clear and even-handed commitment to our values, for the world as it changes to adopt these values, universal as they are, to guide us.

Meanwhile, at home

This article is for a global audience, and has focused mainly on international policy. But there are some interesting lessons from domestic policy also.

1. "Open v closed" is as important today in politics as "left v right" . Nations do best when they are prepared to be open to the world. This means open in their economies, eschewing protectionism, welcoming foreign investment, running flexible labour markets. It means also open to the benefit of controlled immigration. For all nations this is a hugely contentious area of policy. But I have no doubt London is stronger and more successful through the encouragement of targeted migration.

Isolationism and protectionism now cut across left and right boundaries. They are easy tunes to play but pointless in anything other than the very short-term.

2. The role of the state is changing . The state today needs to be enabling and based on a partnership with the citizen, one of mutual rights and responsibilities. The implications are profound. Public services need to go through the same revolution—professionally, culturally and in organisation—that the private sector has been through.

The old monolithic provision has to be broken down. The user has to be given real power and preference. The system needs proper incentives and rewards. The purpose should be so that public services can adapt and adjust naturally—self-generating reform—rather than being continually prodded and pushed from the centre. Public-sector unions can't be allowed to determine the shape of public services.

In Britain we have put huge investment into our public services. But we are also opening the health service to private and voluntary-sector partnerships, introducing a payment-by-results system, creating competition and allowing hospitals to become self-governing trusts. The new academies and trust schools will have the freedom to develop as independent but non-fee-paying schools, with outside partners like businesses, universities and charities able to sponsor and run them.

3. Welfare systems work only if there is shared responsibility —the state to provide help, the citizens to use that help to help themselves. The pensions reforms Britain is now putting through will, over the decades, give us a system that is affordable and fair between the generations, by ensuring that, though each citizen is guaranteed a basic pension, they will be expected to top that up with their own finances.

4. Law and order matters in a way that is more profound than most commentary suggests . It used to be that progressives were people who wanted an end to prejudice and discrimination and took the view that, in crime, social causes were paramount. Conservatives thought crime was a matter of individual responsibility and that campaigns against discrimination were so much political correctness.

Today the public distinguishes clearly between personal lifestyle issues, where they are liberal, and crime, where they are definitely not. It is what I call the pro-gay-rights, tough-on-crime position. It confounds traditional left/right views.

5. Social exclusion needs special focus . From 1979 to 1997 the incomes of the richest 20% in Britain grew faster (2.5%) than the incomes of the poorest 20% (0.8%). That has been reversed. Since 1997 the incomes of the poorest have risen faster (2.2%) than the richest (2%). However, this masks a tail of under-achievers, the socially excluded. The rising tide does not lift their ships. This issue of social exclusion is common throughout Western nations.

6. Finally, political parties will have to change radically their modus operandi . Contrary to mythology, political parties aren't dying; public interest in politics is as intense as it ever was. As the recent turn-out in the French election shows: give people a real contest and they will come out and vote.

But politics is subject to the same forces of change as everything else. It is less tribal; people will be interested in issues, not necessarily ideologies; political organisation if it is rigid is off-putting; and there are myriad new ways of communicating information. Above all, political parties need to go out and seek public participation, not wait for the public to be permitted the privilege of becoming part of the sect.

So, membership should be looser, policymaking broader and more representative, the internet and interactive communication the norm. Open it all up.

Over to you

That is a very short synopsis of what I have learned. I don't presume to call it advice to my successor. I have been reasonably fortunate rarely to receive public "advice" from my predecessors.

The job is difficult enough as it is, and, knowing that, I have nothing but support to offer my successor.

Copyright © 2007 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.



Tuesday, June 05, 2007

No Tuesday Talkback, but...

There is nothing I had to say to any of this week's Monday Moaners that was better than the incest loophole in the new Ohio strip club law.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The State Approved WHAT? No Touching, Unless...

I finally took a look at Senate Bill 16 -- the so called "no touching" strip club law. You can read it HERE.

It turns out there is an exception to the no touching rule. I am not sure if I should be surprised, or if the southern Ohioans who pushed this thing through are revealing something about their own "family values."

Caveat: This is NOT LEGAL ADVICE.

Revised Code 2907.40(C) provides:

(1) No patron who is not a member of the employee's immediate family shall knowingly touch any employee while that employee is nude or seminude or touch the clothing of any employee while that employee is nude or seminude.

(2) No employee who regularly appears nude or seminude on the premises of a sexually oriented business, while on the premises of that sexually oriented business and while nude or seminude, shall knowingly touch a patron who is not a member of the employee's immediate family or another employee who is not a member of the employee's immediate family or the clothing of a patron who is not a member of the employee's immediate family or another employee who is not a member of the employee's immediate family or allow a patron who is not a member of the employee's immediate family or another employee who is not a member of the employee's immediate family to touch the employee or the clothing of the employee.

I bet you can see where this is going.

But it gets better...

Revised Code 2907.40(E) provides:

(E) Whoever violates division (C) of this section is guilty of illegal sexually oriented activity in a sexually oriented business. If the offender touches a specified anatomical area of the patron or employee, or the clothing covering a specified anatomical area, a violation of division (C) of this section is a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the offender does not touch a specified anatomical area of the patron or employee, or the clothing covering a specified anatomical area, a violation of division (C) of this section is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

And just because you want to know what the "specified anatomical areas" are, R.C. 2907.40(A)(16) defines them:

(16) "Specified anatomical areas" includes human genitals, pubic region, and buttocks and the human female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola.

So, it is a fourth degree misdemeanor to shake a strippers hand if she is nude or seminude. And a first degree misdemeanor to make contact with her nipple -- or indeed, to make contact with even the very bottom of her breast well under her nipple...


...she is a member of your immediate family.

So, if your sister/mother/daughter is a stripper, have fun! The new law does not apply to you!

And while strippers can't touch each other -- the law makes an exception if they are members of the immediate family. So a girl on girl show is still ok, as long as they are both sisters. Or brothers, or siblings, I suppose.

Leave it to those southern Ohioans to make this incestuous loophole in the law. Note that it is "immediate family." So, that hottie third cousin you met at the reunion at the firehall probably doesn't make the cut. Play it safe, and go with your sister.

AGAIN ... this is NOT LEGAL ADVICE. If you want to go out to a sexually oriented business and get an up-close and personal lap dance from an immediate family member who works there, contact an attorney for a consultation.

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Friday, June 01, 2007


I did not know before I met you how meeting you would change my life.
But I knew after that.
One year later...mojitos tonight?