Monday, January 20, 1997

Opinion: Reconciliation begins

Published in the Mountainview

Middlebury College has run afoul of town officials and residents many times in the past two years. These were outlined in a Burlington Free Press editorial on Sunday 12 January 1997. That editorial outlined a plan for Middlebury College to again become the town's college, and for the town to again resume the role of the college's town. This entailed, in large part, slowing the pace of initiatives coming down the hill from the College and into town offices. The Free Press also argued that the College should open dialogue with town residents and officials, and return to a policy of harmony with the town, rather than its current policy of harming the town.

Last Tuesday night, 7 January 1997, evidence, however slight, appeared that the College is willing to open the dialogue again. At developer Myron Hunt's request, the College sponsored an open forum for dialogue about the use of the Maple Manor property. Residents were asked specifically to come with ideas for its use and development. This was not to be, and was not, a free-for-all against Mr. Hunt, the College, or development in general.

Numerous speakers discussed their own ideas, or those of others. Suggestions were brought up which Mr. Hunt no doubt found instructive. One can only hope that the College, by far the largest developer in town, was also listening. President McCardell was in attendance, as were David Ginevan, Ron Liebowitz, Don Wyatt, College Forester Steve Weber, Director of Public Affairs Philip Benoit, and numerous faculty and staff. Sadly, there were no students to be seen.

Principles discussed by town residents included the advice to "think small. It's time for a change after two hundred years." A conference center was suggested, which the College could certainly use as well as other local businesses and organizations. A park, suggested by several residents, would adhere to the intention Mr. Ginevan claimed in a letter to faculty and staff in August 1996, to "contribute to the greenway around Middlebury." A sporting field, also suggested as a complement to the MUJHS campus, would serve as a greenspace as well as a resource for all town residents.

Guiding principles requested by speakers included conformance with the Town Plan (not only a nicety, but required by law), "asking not what the town can do for the College, but what the College can do for the town," and enhancing the character and quality of the Rt. 7 South area in the vicinity of Key Bank. Mixed uses were suggested, based not only in thoughtful ideas but also in the mixed-use zoning criterion of the Village Residential-Commercial zoning desigation of the Maple Manor and adjoining property.

Criticism was voiced by several people, who complained that though the meeting was billed as a forum and introduced by President McCardell as a dialogue, there was no response from either Mr. Hunt or the College. This request was left unfulfilled. The next issue of the Addison Independent indicated that there would not be a continuation of dialogue from the College's point of view. President McCardell expressed his satisfaction that the College was no longer involved with the controversial issue, and could move on.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Middlebury College owns the land; the College must choose to sell the land or to develop it on its own. The College has decided to sell, but even in the act of selling may not shirk its fiduciary duties.

Now is the time to take advantage of positive momentum, the first positive momentum the College has had with the town public in two years. Now is the time for President McCardell and other officers of the College to walk down from the hill, as George Bush walked from Capitol Hill to the White House after his inauguration, to show that they are humble and human and trustworthy. The College has a unique window of opportunity, as the College Bicentennial approaches, to make town-College relations stronger than ever. To miss that opportunity would surely color the next two hundred years of the College's history. John McCardell is an historian. He would not want to be remembered as the man who forgot history. He has a chance today to change history for the better. We must encourage and support him in that effort.

Opinion: Cut the tape and start the show

Published in the Mountainview

Does it bother anyone else that both the President of the United States and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Reprensentatives are being investigated for ethics violations, and possible lawbreaking?

I by no means mean to say that either President Clinton or Speaker Gingrich are guilty of any wrongdoing or crimes; they will not be guilty of anything until convicted in a court of law, if their cases ever get that far. Those investigating the men may decide that there is no case to prosecute, or governmental sanction (censure by the House of Representatives, impeachment by the U.S. Senate) may be the last we hear of these men's activities beyond the law.

The old adage says, "Where there's smoke there's fire." In both men's cases, there has been an awful lot of smoke, and some fire. At the moment, investigations are proceeding. Each of these important men, in important national offices, is distracted from his duties by events indicating he should, potentially, no longer be in office. These distractions weaken and hinder the President and the Speaker, who perform duties requiring focus and strength.

I do not suggest by any means that we cancel the investigations of both these men. I do, however, hold that we must expedite the processes, encourage events, good or bad, to run their course quickly, and let whomever is President and whomever is Speaker at the end of the day do their jobs unquestioned.

What can be done? Members of the public can write to their Representatives and Senators, urging the completion of these investigations in a speedy manner. Politics should not be allow to govern these sorts of investigations. At the same time, we must be wary of convicting these men in the media. Each deserves his day in court, if the lawyers involved in each investigation decide that even that is necessary.

I must repeat that I do not wish to convict either man before all sides have been heard in a court of law. However, the mere fact that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich's attentions are diverted from central national issues, even if the allegations are not strong enough to merit a court case or legal censure, is damaging enough to the conduct and reputation of the American government at home and abroad. This is where the story lies: the media is distracting these men, and the public, even beyond what is appropriate.

The American public has not complained about this grave misdirection in the American media. They have been bullied for so long into thinking that what the TV says "America thinks" is what they thing, that what the TV provides is gospel, and that what the newspaper headlines say are the most important issues of the day, that they have given up. Mass disillusionment with the media has occurred; more Americans may "get their news from ABC News than from any other source," but they certainly don't think much of what they get from anyone.

The media has made a circus of the ethical shortfalls of our leaders; they have begun to condemn and beleaguer our leading politicians before any wrongdoing has been proven. This is an ethical violation on the part of the media, and the media should answer for it. Once, newspapers had to provide quality because there was a choice: newspapers had competitors in their home towns. Now, newspapers are giants, and have little or no competition in their hometowns or anywhere else. Quality is no longer the issue; it is quantity of news, the fact that a newspaper can be filled with text on some topic or other, which sells papers.

We blindly hope that someday real news will appear before our eyes on the pages of our favorite papers. We will not see that happen until we demand quality from our journalists, editors, and publishers, action from newspaper advertisers who agree with us, and intelligence on the part of the public.

Friday, January 10, 1997

Show review: How to Eat Like a Child

Published in the Mountainview

Children of all ages went to the Mt. Abraham Union High School on December 6-8 for the Middlebury Community Players' production of "How to Eat Like a Child (...And other lessons in not being a grown-up)." Twenty-one local children from 6 Addison County towns, from ages 8 to 14 performed the play, a series of 25 lessons on living life childishly.

While the audience filed in, filling about one-third of the Mt. Abraham UHS auditorium on Sunday afternoon, local youth band Eclypse played a section of jazz and rock covers with great skill and aplomb.

The lights dimmed, and the company arranged themselves on stage to deliver the opening number, "Like a Child." They offered to reveal secrets children everywhere keep from adults, if we promised not to tell anyone what we saw or heard. The children in the audience (young and old) laughed along with the fun, and were impressed with the singing, acting, and choreography.

The scene changes were indicated by a sign on the side of the stage, to identify which lesson the audience was now learning. The two girls in charge of changing this sign and announcing the new lesson did so in a particularly childlike manner, squabbling, bossing each other around, and teasing each other lightly.

Many different types of lessons were taught, from "how to stay home from school," a fruitless attempt by three girls to feign illness and skip school for a day, to "how to understand your parents," in which everything parents say is translated into kid-speak as "No." Celebratory lessons about walking home from school, and begging parents for a dog, were poignant and amusing, with genuine portrayals by the actors, who no doubt feel life's simple pleasures are important.

Especially noteworthy were a few skits which were largely solo performances: "how to deal with injustice," sung by Elisa Schine (age 11, of Middlebury) with wonderful expression, projection, and melody; "how to wait," sung by Rini Lovshin-Smith (age 11, of Middlebury) with just the right mix of loneliness and eagerness; "how to look forward to your birthday," sung by Eliza Murawski (age 11, of Shoreham), a song which was funny and touching at the same time, pointing out that the best part of a birthday is "when Mom and Dad tell me they're glad I was born" - a lesson no parent should ever forget.

Each of the children was given a major role in one or more of the lessons, an opportunity for each of them to get time on center stage, and a chance for the audience to see the talents of each performer. There was a uniformly high quality of performance throughout the show, and while some people got a bit more stage time than others, every performance was delightful and entertaining. Indeed, director Barbara Harding, of Cornwall, said that sixty children auditioned for the 15 available parts in the show. Twenty-one were case, because of the quality of their performances: "We just couldn't cut them," Harding said.

The last lesson, "how to go to bed," featured all of the cast members trying to stay awake as long as possible without waking "Dad," played by a rumpled and tousled Buck Sleeper (age 13, of Cornwall). As expected, even Cliff Burnham (age 11, of Cornwall) eventually collapsed into slumber while murmuring, "I refuse to fall asleep."

Congratulations are also in order to the adults who directed, stage-managed, and otherwise assisted in the production. No doubt they learned better than the audience that children look at the world through different eyes, and live lives we can all smile at.

The Middlebury Community Players are a group of local actors and actresses of all ages who perform various pieces throughout the year. "How to Eat Like a Child" will be performed again in the spring at the Middlebury Union High School. Keep your eyes open for publicity and posters! The Community Players' next production will be their spring musical, "Follies" by Stephen Sondheim.