Saturday, July 27, 2013

Should East Cleveland be dissolved?

Last week, the nation learned of a serial killer in East Cleveland. Michael Madison has been tied to the deaths of three women, thus far. Coming two months after the revelation that three young women had been held for three years by Ariel Castro, the image of our region’s recovery – still remembered for the burning river and default embarrassments of the 1970s – was further tarnished.

It gives little comfort to those of us in Cuyahoga County to rationalize that the recent events occurred areas that few of us willingly visit – or even drive through.

Recently, I was describing Puerto Rico to a friend, who asked if it was dangerous. I replied that, like any place, Puerto Rico had good and bad areas – and described Bayamon as the East Cleveland of Puerto Rico.

There was a time when East Cleveland was one of the tonier areas in the county, with an economy driven by General Electric’s Nela Park facility, literally a “powerhouse” for activity. Large, beautiful homes lined the streets, and residents included John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Today, aside from a few homes on streets on the hill leading to Cleveland Heights, most of East Cleveland is run down. Many of the once luxurious homes were divided into multi-tenant units over the decades, neglected, and as often or not have been foreclosed or abandoned. Today, the population in East Cleveland is less than half of its peak in 1930.

East Cleveland’s political history has been one of embarrassment after embarrassment. Corruption; Graft; Double dipping. The previous mayor was ousted from office after several embarrassing photos of him wearing women’s clothes came to light. The current mayor, Gary Norton, has been waging a heroic effort over the last three years to get East Cleveland on the road to a solid recovery. For all his hard work, East Cleveland has only a smattering of development to show – mostly on its border with Cleveland’s University Circle.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the possibility of South Euclid merging with Lyndhurst. Judging by web hits, it was one of my most popular posts and received positive commentary. Given the recently aborted plans to merge several suburbs in southeast Cuyahoga County, I have no illusion this will happen anytime soon.

There are times when the most radical solution is justified, and I believe this is such a time. Thus, I propose that the municipality of East Cleveland be dissolved and the territory divided between the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.

Moving in a roughly diagonal line, Cleveland Heights would gain all the territory in Lakeview cemetery, as well as the territory in Mayfield Cemetery. The line would continue with the now divided Forest Hill/Rockefeller Park and all streets to the east of Terrace Road going to Cleveland Heights. Cleveland would gain the remaining territory, including all the properties on Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road, with Terrace Road divided from North Taylor onward – leading to the northeastern boundary of Cleveland Heights being North Noble Road. (An alternative to the above would use the center of Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road as the boundary line.) A benefit would be that most streets which are currently divided between East Cleveland and Cleveland/Cleveland Heights would now fall within one municipality. Also, the confusing, zigzag border that exists between East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights would be replaced with a border largely conforming to geological boundaries.

Two options...

Of course, fiddling around with the boundaries does not equate an instant fix to the myriad problems facing what is now East Cleveland. Those remain: poverty, resulting in a tax base so anemic that basic government services cannot be adequately delivered, resulting in lawlessness, causing people to flee – further driving down property values and tax revenue, resulting in an urban dead zone in which economic development is out of the question.

  The absorption of this territory would stretch the budget of the two acquiring municipalities, particularly Cleveland. What would be required to bring this area to its potential is a combination of federal block grants, state funds, and corporate investment. One need only remember how steeply crime rates dropped in the 1990s to appreciate how much better East Cleveland could be.

I believe the dissolution of East Cleveland is the best way forward for the citizens of that beleaguered area, and would benefit everyone, except for those who’ve profited from East Cleveland’s decades long decline.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Russia’s Olympics: To boycott or not to boycott?

Although not widely reported in the mainstream media, the Russian legislature unanimously passed, and President Vladimir Putin has signed, draconianlegislation forbidding any discussion which touches on homosexuality in anything but the most negative terms.  It’s a tragedy and an outrage that the country of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, and Nureyev – all homosexuals who contributed to Russian and human culture – should pursue such a retrograde course.

There was a time when people dared to hope that Russia was evolving into a more open society.  Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who deserves history’s gratitude, first opened the floodgates of Glasnost – until the reforms of Perestroika ran away faster than he could control and the Soviet Union was disbanded.  A culture of openness continued under Boris Yeltsin, under whom consensual same-sex acts were decriminalized.  But the vacuum caused by Yeltsin’s incompetence and ill health led to former KGB head Vladimir Putin taking control – promising law and order.  He apparently intends to remain in power for life, and has become as autocratic as any Russian leader since Stalin. Thus, while former countries in the Soviet sphere, most notably the Czech Republic, embrace openness and tolerance, Russia has been moving backwards and appears destined to become a Christian version of Iran.

Many in the LGBT community have called for the United States and other LGBT friendly nations to boycott the2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  Leaving aside the question as to whether the United States deserves to be called an LGBT welcoming nation, history has already demonstrated that a boycott would be a mistake.  I understand why individual LGBT athletes would want to boycott the games – either out of principle or due to concerns for their own safety.  But boycotts by nations would do nothing to advance the causes of LGBT rights in Russia, would only further isolate Russia (and LGBT Russians) from the rest of the world, and would quell opportunities for our athletes.  Let’s take a look at history:

The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, the center of Nazi Germany.  There were calls to boycott the games due to the Nazis’ racial and anti-Semitic policies.  At the insistence of Franklin Roosevelt, America participated. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, the long jump, and the 4X100 meter sprint relay, he threw mud in the face of Hitler’s theories on Aryan racial supremacy.

In 1980, 65 nations, led by the United States, boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The boycott did nothing to change Soviet policy: the Russians remained in Afghanistan for another nine years.  Nor did the boycott do anything to harm the Soviets’ image – not that they ever cared about appearances.

But the boycott did harm the many athletes who were unable to participate.  As Greg Louganis wrote: 

”The boycott was a terrible disappointment.  All of us had been working toward the games, and now suddenly it was gone.  To make matters worse, we were all expected to fall in line behind the president.  I never paid much attention to politics, so I really didn’t care why we were boycotting.  Whether the goal was to humiliate the Soviets for invading Afghanistan or to express dramatically our government’s disapproval of the invasion, the bottom line was that we weren’t going to compete.  The athletes and the fans paid the price for the message.” 
Louganis went on to note that even though he was able to resume his Olympic career in 1984 and 1988, for many, 1980 was their last chance to compete.

In 1984, the Soviets and 14 other nations responded with their own boycott of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, to even less effect.

In short, the idea that a boycott of the Olympics would have prevented the Holocaust, brought about Soviet withdrawal in Afghanistan, or prevented Western victory in the Cold War is beyond fallacious – it’s nonsensical.  It’s the kind of idea raised by New York activists like Michelangelo Signorile and Harvey Fierstein – both of whom live in gayborhoods and neither of whom have any idea what it’s like for aspiring athletes – gay or straight - growing up in flyover country.

A much better enterprise would be to use the power of the purse and persuade sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa, Samsung, and other corporations, to refrain from advertising at the games – and failing that, to boycott them.  Even better would be for the International Olympics Committee to move the games to a more appropriate venue, perhaps London or Vancouver.  A boycott of Russian made products could also be effective.  There has been talk of boycotting Russian Vodka (which might lead people to realize that Polish Vodka is superior at any rate) as well as those stupid nesting dolls.  Further, a voluntary boycott of tourism and visiting performance artists in Russia would drive home how the civilized world feels about the thuggery taking over Russia.  If Russians want to trot out their homophobia for all to see, right thinking companies should see to it that such behavior is unprofitable.  In the meantime, the Western powers, including the United States, should reform their immigration laws and welcome LGBT from countries which oppress them.  That’s a more effective way to help LGBT people throughout the world.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Leon Fleisher - the original album collection

In honor of his 85th birthday, Sony has released a 23CD set of their complete recordings of Leon Fleisher. Read my full review here.

The fat lady sings

If the proverbial fat lady sang her final aria in the forest, would anybody hear her?

On July 10, the lawsuit filed by the Save the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Mansion Library Committee against the Cuyahoga County Library Board was dismissed.  The suit was to prevent CCPL from selling the Telling Mansion and grounds. 

As of today, that suit’s dismissal has yet to be acknowledged by the Save the Mansion Library Committee or reported in the local media.

Meanwhile, the SML Committee continues their efforts.  The latest activity is a “read-in” scheduled for tonight in the Telling Mansion.  Presumably, their leaders continue to solicit funds.  A member of their group even called the President of TeMPO, boasting of the thousands of dollars they’ve raised.  They continue to post, in capital letters, that “THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL” on their facebook page and in’s comments section (where one member of the SML committee posts under at least seven different names).

Truth be told, it’s a done deal.  I have never been in favor of the library’s move – but it’s going to happen.  The new site has been purchased, the Telling site is all but sold, and the legal barriers have been overcome.  Despite what some have stated, there’s nothing the city of South Euclid can do to prevent the new facility from opening.  Any attempt to erect bureaucratic barriers to the CCPL’s plans would inevitably result in a suit for which the citizens of South Euclid – and they alone – would be financially responsible.  Within a relatively short time, the library will move.  One can either choose to beat one’s chest, or one can try and find the best possible solution - emphasis on “possible”.

This is exactly why those of us in the Telling Mansion Preservation Organization have been working to secure the future of this historic property, to save it from demolition, and, preferably, keep it open to the public.  While the SML’ers have been promoting online petitions with no legal validity, picketing weekly outside the library, disrupting Library board and South Euclid City Council/Planning Commission meetings, we’ve been speaking with the prospective new owner: Richard Barone.  Mr. Barone wants to utilize the Telling Mansion as a museum for his collection of Porcelain Art, a niche that’s underserved in the United States.  We’ve raised our concerns about the long term future of the Mansion, allowing the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society to remain there, keeping it open to the public, and other possible uses – including ceremonies and performing arts.  Mr. Barone has responded positively to these concerns and gone over his plans in some detail – much of which remains unreported in the local media. We’re relieved that someone with the means to bring the Mansion, which has been neglected by the CCPL for the last decade, up to specs is now engaged.  And we intend to continue working toward the creation of a permanent foundation, with an endowment, to secure the Telling Mansion’s long term viability.

Now, let’s talk about the new library site.  Beyond the question of aesthetics, which is a matter of opinion, there are legitimate concerns about the proposed location on Green Road, across from Notre Dame College. 

One concern raised by the SML group is the large parking lot for the proposed site, and the potential impact to the water shed due to the increase in rainwater runoff.  The Planning Commission must insist on permeable materials for the entire parking lot.  If the CCPL can afford $12 to build a new library, they can afford the additional cost for permeable paving. It’s up to us citizens of South Euclid to ensure the Planning Commission heeds these concerns.  As a member of the Citizens Steering Committee for South Euclid’s new Master Plan, I intend to pursue this matter.

Another concern is the location.  Although the CCPL boasts that the new location will be ADA compliant, there is the accessibility of location – and the new site is not on RTA’s major line: the No. 9.  Citizens should encourage RTA to provide better bus access to the new Library.  Indeed, a community circulator bus that runs in the area bordered by Richmond Road on the East, Warrensville Center Road on the West, Mayfield Road on the North, and Cedar Road on the South is warranted. 

Finally, there is the issue of Lyndhurst.  It would be intentionally ignorant to deny that this community, which I once called home, has gotten the shaft.  The Mayfield Library has moved a mile further away from Lyndhurst, while the new site also takes the library over a mile further from Lyndhurst.  I believe citizens of South Euclid and Lyndhurst should team up, as we have in the past, and persuade the CCPL to open a satellite facility in Lyndhurst, as they have in Richmond Heights, preferably on Mayfield Road.

However, this should be something for the citizens of South Euclid and Lyndhurst to work on. The professional activists, particularly those with a history of antagonizing large swaths of our community and who have proven, by their losing track record, to have the fecal touch, need to butt out.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A refresher for drivers

For nine years, I lived in New England; in a state so notorious for aggressive, discourteous, and incompetent drivers they had their own name: Massholes. But I’ve encountered more than a few of these drivers right here in Cleveland, driving cars bearing Ohio license plates.

All too often, I see cars being driven far below the speed limit on highways. Until a few years ago, one could bet money the driver was someone well into their senior years. Now, as often as not, the driver is too busy yakking on a cell phone to drive at a reasonable rate of speed. Conversely, on my curving residential street, I frequently see drivers with cell phones whizzing by at well over the posted limit of 35MPH – I even saw one wrap his minivan around a tree on the median.

Then, there is the flagrant abuse of handicapped tags. Just this past weekend, while waiting in line at Dairy King, Daniel and I observed a portly woman park her Toyota Camry next to the building, immediately adjacent to a sign warning patrons not to park there. She then took her place behind us in line, complaining the whole time about the lack of service, while the one young person behind the counter scrambled to keep up with the orders. While we enjoyed our treats, we saw the woman get into her car and, ice cream cone in hand, move her car to a spot in the parking lot while she devoured her treat.

But I digress – let’s get back to the issue at hand: the drivers licensed by the state of Ohio. Just yesterday, my car was nearly sideswiped by a truck whose driver blew through a stop sign.

Based on my observations, Ohio should require drivers to correctly answer the following questions every time they get their license renewed:

1. How does a 4-way stop work?
A. The first vehicle at the intersection has the right of way.
B. The largest vehicle has the right of way.
C. The vehicle to the right has the right of way.
D. The vehicle blasting the loudest music has the right of way.

2. Who has the right of way on a two-way street with vehicles parked on one side?
A. The vehicle on the same side as the parked vehicles has the right of way.
B. The vehicle on the opposite side of the parked vehicles has the right of way.
C. Whichever vehicle is the fastest has the right of way.
D. Whichever vehicle arrives at the restricted section first has the right of way.

3. When do pedestrians have the right of way at a crosswalk?
A. When the traffic light is green in the pedestrian’s direction.
B. When “Walk” or symbol displays at a Pedestrian control signal.
C. When there are no traffic signals present.
D. All of the above.

4. When is it appropriate to turn left at a signaled intersection?
A. When the left-turn arrow appears.
B. If there is no left-turn arrow, but a solid green signal, once oncoming traffic has passed.
C. When there is a sign showing a red circle-slash through the left arrow.
D. Both A and B.

5. When is it appropriate to make a right-on-red?
A. When you’re in a hurry.
B. When there is no oncoming traffic, unless a restrictive sign is posted.
C. When no one’s looking.
D. When there are pedestrians in the crosswalk.

6. When should drivers activate their turn signal?
A. As you make your turn or change lanes.
B. Never. You don’t want the government agents tailing you to know where you’re headed.
C. At least 100 feet before turning or changing lanes, whether or not you see someone behind you.
D. Before turning or changing lanes if someone is behind you.

See the comments section for the correct answers.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thunder and Lightning at Blossom

Neither heat, humidity, nor a sudden thunderstorm prevented the Cleveland Orchestra with guest pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet from dazzling at Blossom Music Center last night. 

The skies darkened just as Franz Welser-Möst strode onstage to begin Beethoven’s Grand Fugue.  Originally written as the final movement the Op. 130 string quartet, Beethoven eventually replaced it with a more conventional ending and published the piece separately as Op. 133.  The piece is often performed in an arrangement for string orchestra, with the cello part supplemented by the double bass.  As with many of Beethoven’s later works, such as the Op. 111 piano sonata, and the last few string quartets, the Grand Fugue connects with something beyond the corporeal.   That feeling was enhanced when the skies opened up a few minutes into the piece.  With the accompanying rain and thunder, I was reminded of the story of Beethoven on his deathbed, raising his fist at a flash of lightning. 

There was a delay starting the second work, Liszt’s Dance of the Dead – first as the stagehands moved the piano to the center stage and arranged the orchestra seats, then as the first violinists took refuge from a sudden mist that invaded the pavilion.  Soon enough, the orchestra returned to the stage, joined by the pianist and conductor.  Thibaudet, dressed in a tastefully dazzling outfit, was a picture of fierce concentration at the keyboard.  There are not many pianists who can make this piece both exciting pianistically, but convincing musically.  But Thibaudet is one such artist.  The thunder was an appropriate accompaniment to the storms Thibaudet created at the piano.  He was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

During the intermission, the weather calmed and skies cleared.   

Following the intermission, Welser-Möst led the orchestra in a headlong performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.  Eschewing the first movement repeat, Welser-Möst’s tempos were swift, rhythms taut, with stark dynamic contrasts.

The finale was received with an enthusiastic response from the audience, some on the lawn still wet from the rainstorm.  It takes more than a storm to come between Cleveland’s audience and their music.