Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Time to pick up the TeMPO

It has been over nine months since the people of South Euclid and Lyndhurst learned of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s plan to sell the Telling Mansion and move to a new location on Green Road.  While many have spoken against the plan, the CCPL board has stated in no uncertain terms that they are moving.  South Euclid’s government has very little power to affect the outcome. 

Various officials have claimed wide support for the move.  I’m skeptical of that claim.  I’ve discussed this issue far and wide, in person and online.  Aside from the CCPL board members, I can count the number of people I’ve actually met who support the move on one hand.

I remain opposed to the move for several reasons, most of which have nothing to do with the so-called “sentimental” value of the Telling Mansion.  I feel the proposed location takes the branch too far from the geographical center of South Euclid-Lyndhurst and away from the main public transportation route – in all matters except wheelchair access, the Green Road site would be less accessible; further, the proposed site also removes three valuable properties from the public tax rolls.  I’ve signed and promoted an online petition opposing the move.  I’ve blogged and spoken against the move, as have numerous others.  But the purpose of this post is not to debate the merits of the move – that has already been discussed to death.

There are two groups involved in the Library issue.  There is the Save the Mansion Library group, which is opposed to any move by the Library – end of discussion.  They have been protesting on weekends outside the Library and originated the petition.  The second group is the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization – TeMPO (full disclosure, I am a charter member and serve as the group’s Vice President).

One of the reasons members of the community came together to form TeMPO is because the other group’s efforts have not had any traction.  Truth be told: “likes” on a facebook page and petitions do not carry any legal weight – they are of symbolic importance only.  (Let’s not even get into the fact that, Inc. is a rather shady, for-profit company which does not safeguard signatory information.  If you’ve noticed an increase in the number of spam e-mails in your inbox after signing a petition, there’s a reason.)  Further, the CCPL is not subject to voter referendum and the plans for the new Library cannot be vetoed by South Euclid’s Planning Commission or by the City Council.  If either body tried to take such an action, the city would be subject to a potentially costly lawsuit for which the taxpayers of South Euclid – and those of South Euclid alone – would be on the hook.  Further, nothing is to be gained by demonizing the CCPL board, which has been part of the tack taken by some of the other group’s more extreme members.  Recently, the other group tried to get a court order preventing the sale of the Telling Mansion.  Within three hours, their request was dismissed.  Meanwhile, the CCPL board now has two offers for the Mansion on the table.  (Over the weekend, I heard that the Save the Mansion Library group’s legal help was paid for by one of the wealthiest families in Cleveland – a family which could easily afford to buy the Telling Mansion, donate it to a non-profit, and keep it opened for all to enjoy.)  What was the other group’s response to the dismissal?  Continue pushing the online petition and hold another weekend protest - which has accomplished nothing concrete. 

Einstein referred to repeatedly trying the same methods and expecting different results as a sign of insanity. There comes a time when one must prepare for the inevitable and try to make the best of a bad situation.  Whether one agrees with or opposes the Library’s move, surely we can all agree that the Telling Mansion, South Euclid’s most noteworthy architectural treasure, must be saved and, preferably, remain open to the public.

As I’ve stated before, people of good conscience can have differing points of view, and even believe in different methods to achieve the same, or similar, goals.  So, it’s disappointing when online commentators feel the need to question the sincerity of TeMPO members and accuse us of shilling for this-or-that South Euclid based politician, or try to connect the Library issue with 2011’s Oakwood controversy.   The fact is that TeMPO members come from all over the political spectrum, from members of the Green Party to Democrats to Republicans.  Our treasurer ran against the mayor in the 2011 election.  TeMPO has at least two members who are also in the Save the Mansion Library group. 

It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and complain online.  It’s not so easy to roll up your sleeves, engage, come up with solutions, and try to put those into action.  But it’s more rewarding. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


When Franklin Roosevelt entered politics, it was in the shadow of his distant cousin Theodore. In early adulthood, FDR patterned himself on Teddy: wearing pince-nez spectacles, using terms like “bully” and “dee-lighted”. He was also proudly interventionist and in favor of American expansionism. This was especially the case when he served as Woodrow Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Early in World War I, an associate recalled FDR bursting into the office of a senior Administration official and declaring “We MUST get into this war!” Teddy, who famously charged up San Juan Hill, thought war was a glorious thing, and the young Franklin thought so as well. When the United States finally entered the war, Franklin planned to enlist in the Navy. President Wilson learned of FDR’s plans, and sternly ordered his junior cabinet member to stay at his post where he could do the most good. The most FDR saw of action was in 1918, when he travelled to the front in Europe.

FDR at the front in 1918.

When FDR’s 1918 trip is discussed, it’s usually in the context of how it ended: he contracted either a strain of influenza (possibly the Spanish Flu) or pneumonia, and was brought home on a stretcher. While he was recovering, his wife Eleanor unpacked his luggage and discovered a series of love letters that her own social secretary, Lucy Mercer, had written to Franklin. The affair brought on a near break up of their marriage, which would surely have ended FDR’s political career.

  But another aspect of FDR’s trip had a profound influence on him, haunting him to the extent that he referenced it during his 1936 campaign for reelection – an unusual speech in that FDR spoke of war during a campaign that was focused on economic recovery:

I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnumbered hours, thinking and planning how war may be kept from this Nation.

I wish I could keep war from all Nations; but that is beyond my power. I can at least make certain that no act of the United States helps to produce or to promote war. I can at least make clear that the conscience of America revolts against war and that any Nation which provokes war forfeits the sympathy of the people of the United States.

That last sentence, about aggressor nations losing the support of the American people, must have been on FDR’s mind in September, 1939. With the outbreak of war brought on by Germany’s invasion of Poland, FDR was careful to avoid Wilson’s mistakes. While Wilson encouraged all Americans to remain neutral in thought and action, FDR differed: “ I cannot ask every American to remain neutral in thought…Even a neutral has a right to take account of facts. Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or to close his conscience.” It was shortly thereafter that FDR proposed scrapping the Neutrality Act and selling arms to England, coupled with steep increases in domestic military spending. The controversy that erupted resulted in the two most difficult years of FDR’s presidency.

Much has been made over the decades of how FDR dealt with isolationism from 1939 until December 7, 1941. I believe by following Occam’s Razor we can arrive at the truest solution: By mid-1941, FDR knew that the United States would have to enter the war. But he also knew the military was not ready – Congress had proved reluctant to appropriate the expenditures FDR felt necessary to build up the military and America was desperately short of equipment. With Lend-Lease, FDR felt he could keep the allies going long enough while the United States built up to full strength. By autumn of 1941, the tide of public opinion in America was turning toward intervention, and FDR could probably have gotten a Declaration of War against Germany through Congress. But the notion that FDR schemed to provoke the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which would bring war on the wrong front at the wrong time and distract America from German aggression, is absolutely ludicrous. The historical record demonstrates that FDR’s primary foreign policy goal, in peace or war, was to protect America’s interests. Thus, he would have wanted American participation in any war to result in maximum gain with minimal sacrifice. I would guestimate that, had the attack on Pearl Harbor not occurred, FDR would probably have gone to the Congress and asked for a declaration of war sometime around mid-1942.

Indeed, even though FDR’s hand was forced by the Japanese, the United States paid the least in blood sacrifice among the major antagonists. This is not to denigrate the real and terrible cost of the war, but strictly as a matter of mathematics, the United States suffered the smallest number of casualties in terms of percentage of its population. Nor did we face widespread destruction of our homeland as did much of Europe and Asia. Nor was our economy wrecked by the war – indeed, American workers benefitted as America experienced full employment for the first time since before the Great Depression began. And thanks to the rationing of various goods like gasoline, clothing, and food, Americans on the home front were forced into saving money. The pent up consumer demand and ample savings helped launch an unprecedented and sustained postwar economic boom. But even that paled compared to our status in the postwar world, as America had emerged as the de facto leader of the Western powers. Much of that is the result of the decisions that Franklin Roosevelt – haunted by what he saw in 1918 – made from 1939 onward.

Star Trek Into Gimmickry

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for longer than I can remember. I was only two years old when the original series was cancelled, but I watched it early on in the syndication – around the same time I watched the Animated Series. I’ve seen all the movies on or shortly after opening day. After seeing the pilot of The Next Generation, I didn’t bother watching it again until the Third Season – by which time it was a much better series, and I’ve watched the subsequent series, but not with the dedication of the original.

Of course, an adult looks for different things in entertainment than a child – at least I hope that’s the case. When I watched Trek initially, it was for the “neat-o” things: phasers, photon torpedoes, the ship being thrown off axis and crewmembers flying everywhere. Later, at a time when my own family was breaking up, I watched for the familiarity of the crew. Even later, I picked up on the social/political commentary embedded in many episodes. Not long ago, I was watching an episode called “A Private Little War” which concerned the Klingons and Federation arming different factions on a neutral planet, and I realized the episode was an allegory about Vietnam.

Many of these thoughts returned to me after watching the latest Trek film: Into Darkness. It’s certainly entertaining, in that it holds the viewer’s attention. Like most genre films these days, it’s paced relentlessly fast. I saw the movie twice, mostly because it was in 3-D, a first for a Star Trek film. But I don’t plan on seeing it in the theater again.

First, there is the issue of the villain, who’s revealed to be none other than Khan Noonian Singh. Let’s ignore the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch, while a fine actor, is totally unsuited to the role of a North Indian superman. Let’s focus on how the character is written. Khan as portrayed in the movie is a psychotic killer without remorse or redemptive qualities, who committed genocide during the 20th Century. This is poles apart from the way Khan was written in the original series, where he was described as “the best of the tyrants…there were no massacres under his rule.” The writing, and Ricardo Montalban’s performance, exuded a sense of ruthless nobility. During the course of the episode, Khan killed precisely ZERO crewmembers. It was for this reason that Kirk dropped charges against Khan and his followers and settled them on a planet – which subsequently suffered an ecological disaster. Even the revenge obsessed, Ahab-Like Khan of the second Star Trek film, who rightly blamed Kirk for neglecting to send follow up ships to check on their progress, was restrained enough to maroon the crew of the Reliant on Ceti Alpha V rather than killing them – although he killed several people later in the film. The original Khan and the alternate Khan are not the same villain, and the alternate timeline of the new movies is not an adequate excuse for that.

Secondly, there is the film’s portrayal of Kirk as a reckless youth, too big for his britches and not worthy of commanding a starship. By the end of the film, he’s had his comeuppance. Whether he’s matured into the character seen in the original series remains to be seen.

To be blunt, I find the portrayal of Kirk in the two most recent Trek films to be offensive. Although the new films’ kirk grew up in an altered universe from the original series, the modern portrayal is certain to cast a negative hue on the classic character. It’s worth remembering that the young Kirk was remembered as “a stack of books with legs” by associates who knew him while in Starfleet Academy.

The impression most people have of the original series' Kirk as a shoot first, talk later, bed down with every space-babe Captain is exaggerated. In reality, he was a lot closer to Pike and Picard than he is to the Kirk character in the two most recent movies. Also, William Shatner’s acting style has been so often and broadly parodied that it has changed the perceptions of casual and non-fans regarding his real portrayal. It’s worth remembering that Shatner’s performance in early TOS episodes was initially criticized as “wooden” by TV Guide. Shatner did his share of scenery chewing, but those were rare and mostly toward the end of the series’ run and in the movies.

Take for example, Kirk alleged aggression. There are plenty of episodes where Kirk resisted the impulse/advice to act more aggressively against a real or perceived enemy (Where No Man has Gone Before, The Devil in the Dark, The Corbomite Maneuver, The Conscience of the King, Arena, By Any Other Name, The Omega Glory). In nearly every episode in which there’s aggression, Kirk is backed into a corner until there’s no alternative (Where No Man has Gone Before), or undertakes it to stave off an expansion of hostilities (Balance of Terror).

Then there is the issue of Kirk’s alleged promiscuity. He certainly had his share of “action”, but there were often qualifiers: under a spell/hypnosis/posession (Elaan of Troyus, Dagger of the Mind, Return to Tomorrow); amnesia (The Paradise Syndrome); divided in two by the transporter (The Enemy Within); the female was an android/simulacrum (What Are Little Girls Made of, Requiem for Methuselah, Shore Leave); operating under false pretenses (The Conscience of the King, Mirror Mirror, Catspaw, By Any Other Name, Wink of an Eye, The Mark of Gideon). He also had his share of exes – intelligent, independent females – most of whom regarded him highly, and vice-versa (Court Martial, The Deadly Years, The Wrath of Khan). There was one exception, Janet Lester, who was arguably psychotic. Kirk also suffered his share of romantic tragedy (The City on the Edge of Forever, The Paradise Syndrome), and was even given the brush-off (The Voyage Home). Finally, anyone who followed the series even casually could discern that many of these flings didn’t go “all the way”. Somehow, I can’t imagine the series’ Kirk bedding town with two alien females while the Beastie Boys blasted from his sound system.

Ultimately, of course, it's the writer who's responsible for the character's arc. Classic Trek was blessed with a great writer D. C. (Dorothy) Fontana, one of the few female writers in television in those days. She and the rest of the creative team - including the actors - made Kirk and Spock into complex, interesting, and imperfect characters. The J. J. Abrams franchise is run by post-adolescent fanboys who place cleverness and contrivance before substance. Not that the new Trek isn't entertaining - but it's not a character driven drama – and it doesn’t stand up to repeated viewing.