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February 2009

February 20, 2009

Take Your Pod and Stuff It

I walked down Church Street tonight and I was completely invisible. A good friend walked right past me without seeing me. She was texting/Twittering/God-knows-whattering on her iPhone/iPod/insert-other-popular-web-enabled-device-here. Right behind her was another friend who didn't see me either because of the very same thing.

A few years ago —  passing by those very same people on the very same street —  we would have stopped and talked. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for an hour. We would have gone for a drink or two... or three... at the bar on the corner. We would have made stories to TELL... not "blog."  Or maybe we would have just sat on a bench and talked for a while. Or maybe we would have just smiled and nodded as we passed. Something. Some kind of interaction.

When I got home, I found myself talking on my cell phone with a friend in NYC whose laptop suddenly started typing gibberish. She asked me to "google" the answer to her problem. I tried and tried and tried until my cell phone died. I took another cell phone and tried to her back, but I didn't know her number since, for so long, I had only hit a button from my "contacts" list. In another time, I would have looked in my phone book and dialed her up on a rotary phone, connected by a wire to the wall, connected by another wire to the pole, connected by another wire and another and another to her ear.

I couldn't help my friend. She couldn't finish her work. Or find a new roommate. Or contact the world. Because her keyboard was coming up with numbers and symbols instead of letters. I told her that maybe it was a sign telling her to put the computer in the corner and take a break.

I want to take a break. I'm sick of technology. I'm sick of the cold. I'm sick of social networking with no social interaction.

I want letters in my mailbox instead of messages in my inbox. I want flesh and blood instead of "friends"  on facebook. I don't care what your "is" is. I don't want your "Tweet." I want discourse and discussion. I want albums and records instead of downloads on iTunes. I want liner notes. I want real breath. Real words. Real. Speaking. Human. Beings. I want LIFE Not iLife.

And I know I'm not alone.

Vermont-Connected RNC Protesters Acquitted of Charges

Local-protest_0 In early September, we reported that a pair of protesters with Vermont connections were arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota, during the Republican National Convention. Turns out the twentysomething protesters, Sam Maron and Katt Tolman, are part of a group called the "Wall Street" seven that was later charged with Obstructing Legal Process, Disorderly Conduct, Unlawful Assembly and Blocking Traffic.

According to a press release from the group's legal counsel, the National Lawyers Guild of Minnesota, the charges were dismissed on January 23 after a judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to support a conviction. (An advocacy website states that other RNC protesters are still facing charges.)

In a phone interview Tuesday, Maron told Seven Days he could have gotten 3 months in prison for each charge, but that he never expected to: "We all believed that we were wrongly arrested," the University of Vermont alum explained. "We knew it was a case of the police rounding up anybody who they thought looked like a protester, and not one of actually stopping people [from] committing crimes."

The RNC legal infraction wasn't Maron's first. Two weeks before the convention, he was deported from Beiing for dropping  a"Free Tibet" banner on the new headquarters of China's state-run television station.

What's Maron's next move? He says he just finished a stint at the New York City offices of Students for a Free Tibet and is thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail. At some point, Maron adds, he may return to Vermont.

February 19, 2009

Can Burlington Pull Off an Error-Free Election?

Let’s face it, Burlington has had its share of problems since longtime elections chief Jo LaMarche left the city to take a job as the Addison County Clerk, and many wonder if the current team is really up to the task of pulling off an error-free election in the state's largest city.

Last May, city Democrats hauled Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold and his assistant Ben Pacy into court. The issue was whether a ballot box was improperly unsealed during the recount of a New North End council race. Pacy was cleared of any wrongdoing, but it cast a pall over whether the city could run an election. Since then, Burlington had a statewide primary where not enough ballots were ordered for one ward, and then on November 4 they incorrectly reported vote tallies on election eve, which caused confusion in a key county senate race. And, results were handed out to the public several hours later than in any previous election.

Now comes word that election workers were given bad info about how voting machines would be set up. During a training last week, Pacy told election workers that ballot machines would be calibrated at City Hall and elected election officials would not be allowed to create printouts at the polling site proving the machines were clear of ballots. That has been the standard in past elections, LaMarche confirmed with Blurt, the Seven Days staff blog.

That didn’t sit well with Ward 6 election official Owen Mulligan. Elected election officials — not city employees and consultants — should ensure ballot boxes are clear of any ballots, he argues. And, rightly so.

Mulligan contacted Seven Days, and subsequently his note to us ended up on Jay Vos' blog Blazing Indiscretions, where it stirred up some interesting comments. Haik Bedrosian of BurlingtonPol chimed in, and posted a diary on his site, "IRV and Election Integrity."

When Mulligan’s complaint hit the blog, however, IRV supporter and consultant Terry Bouricius took action and called city hall. He said Pacy’s info was inaccurate, and said so on Blazing Indiscretions.

“Owen was rightly upset,” Bouricius told Blurt. "But, what he would like to happen is actually what is going to happen."

Bouricius is a former Prog city councilor and state lawmaker who now works for FairVote, a national outfit that promotes IRV. In 2006, he was a paid consultant for the city. This year, he’s doing some work pro bono since few, if any, of the election workers in city hall were around three years ago.

Still, Bouricius said that anyone who may question the IRV outcome will be able to view cast ballots online after the election, essentially allowing for anyone to conduct their own citizen's audit of the results. You can go to this site to view how that worked from the 2006 election. To get a preview of the ballots for this year's election, go here.

As for Mulligan, he’s not happy that he had to learn from a blog post on a friend’s website that city officials were in the wrong — and from someone who isn't directly associated with the city's elections office. In fact, when he called Pacy for clarification after the training, he was told — again — that elected officials at the polling stations would not create the paper printouts.

"My paperwork I received for running the election is very clear: no paper print outs for the IRV machine," Mulligan tells Blurt.

Today, Pacy tells Blurt that the city didn't have complete information at the previous training, and said so to election workers. He said the updated information will be provided to election workers at Tuesday's training.

"At the initial training we did not have the information that the ballot count would be printed on the tape. We had indicated to the election workers at the training that we would provide clarification on this procedure," said Pacy. "Initially, we had been instructed that the tape would contain no relevant information. This was since clarified to mean that the tape will contain 'zeros' which have no relevant connection to the data stored in the machine, however the machine will print the number of ballots that have been ‘stored or put through’ the tabulator which is very relevant."

In other words, Pacy adds, ward clerks will do no different than they have always done, turn the machine on. "This simple action will have the machine print a tape with many zeros on it and a count of the ballots that have gone through the machine," Pacy said.

In addition, city officials have invited representatives from each party, each ward, and each mayoral campaign to observe the IRV software test that needs to happen before the machines are set up.

That was also an issue that concerned Mulligan — having only city employees and private consultants doing the work without elected poll workers and campaign reps on-hand was troubling to say the least.

"The mayoral campaigns have been invited to view the logic and accuracy testing," says Pacy, assistant chief administrative officer and the guy in charge of Burlington's elections. "More recently, the parties, campaigns and ward clerks have been asked to have representation at this testing."

The final election training for poll workers is slated for Tuesday, March 24.

(Note: Ken Picard will have a detailed description of how IRV works in next week's Seven Days. You can also view a Flash-animated tutorial here.)

UPDATE: As Haik Bedrosian points out in the comments below, the ruling on the case of the unsealed ballot box was in April, not May. Also, to clarify a judge did not exonerate Pacy, but found that Pacy had violated election law by opening the box. However in his ruling, Judge Dennis Pearson said he believed Pacy did so without any intent to harm or change the outcome of the election.

February 18, 2009

Vermont Yankee on the Hot Seat

The Vermont Legislature isn’t the only place where Entergy Vermont Yankee officials can find themselves on the hot seat.

Img-meetVoters in roughly 40 towns in 10 counties will cast ballots on whether the state’s lone nuke plant should get a 20-year extension on its 40-year operating license. Several others will take up the matter under "other business," according to Dan DeWalt, the former Newfane selectman who spearheaded a similar statewide ballot initiative urging Congress to impeach then-Pres. George W. Bush. 

The group — Replace VY — has signed up towns ranging from Holland (my old hometown) to Halifax to take up the anti-VY measure. Bolton is the only Chittenden County town on the list. Brattleboro and Montpelier are the two most populous communities who will include the item on the ballot. 

Several towns are planning informational meetings on the vote in the coming two weeks prior to Town Meeting Day, and have invited Entergy and its relicensing opponents to make their cases before townspeople.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and other opponents have signed on for the debate, but so far Entergy has balked at showing up to make its case directly to the people. There's a reason, an Entergy spokesman tells Blurt.

"Our focus is on operating the plant safely and reliably," said Rob Williams, VY's spokesman. Entergy is focused on the legislative and regulatory processes and doesn't see responding to the Town Meeting Day ballot items as a good use of their time and money. "The legislative and the PSB processes are simply the best use of our resources. However, as we have said on energy issues over the years, the more discussion the better and we support anything that contributes to better understanding of complex energy issues."

It's also not helping Entergy's case that it has failed to plug a leak in a key pipe valve, and it may need to shut down operations in order to make the repair. It has also failed to strike a power contract deal with Vermont utilities, a deal some lawmakers believe is crucial to settle before they vote on whether to extend VY's license beyond 2012.

In addition to calling for VY’s shutdown, the ballot measure also calls for Entergy to fully-fund the plant’s decommissioning fund at the time the nuclear power plant is shut down. For more info, and to get a list of dates where these issues may, or may not, be debated before Town Meeting Day, check out

In addition to these debates, other anti-nuclear groups are hosting presentations about the health risks of nuclear power, featuring German pediatrician Winfred Eisenberg. Performances of Voices from Chernobyl, which catalogues the consequences and some personal costs of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, are also happening around the state. For more info, check out

February 17, 2009

Blogging Burlington Politics

Bob Kiss and Haik 02.01.09 light small No, I'm not talking about what we're doing here on Blurt. We actually get paid for our reporting. And we're happy about that.

Haik Bedrosian, on the other hand, is not getting paid to blog about Burlington politics, but he does it anyway. Exhaustively. It's impressive.

Haik runs BurlingtonPol, a hyperlocal blog that covers Queen City politics. That's him at the right with Mayor Bob Kiss, in a photo from his blog.

Haik is a native Burlingtonian and former Burlington City Councilor. He drove the night shift for Benways Taxi for a summer. In other words, he's got some institutional memory, and he knows the ins and outs of the system.

He's not always the most reliable narrator — he reserves the right to lie to his readers in the disclaimer on the site, for example. And he sometimes allows his interview subjects to vet their copy. As in, retract their quotes — a major journalistic no-no. He also occasionally replaces his blog with a picture of Andy Kaufman. So you'll click on his URL expecting to see his blog, and all you get is... Andy Kaufman.

Yes, he admits that his blog is a "shabby, amateur" political experiment. But I love it. Haik is doing what everyone hopes citizen journalists will do — he's keeping an eye on local government. He's one more critic examining the way the city is run. And best of all, he does actual, shoe-leather reporting.

"I write from the heart and I tell the truth as I see it without fear or favor," Haik writes on his "About This Blog" page. Amen, brother!

Here are some links to Haik's March elections coverage. And be sure to read the comments on his posts. The discussions can be rather lively.

Haik proimses to deliver his final two mayoral candidate profiles soon. Incidentally, Seven Days staffer Ken Picard finishes up his candidate profiles tomorrow, with a story about Independent Dan Smith. You'll find it in tomorrow's paper and on our website.

Oh, and did I mention that Haik also has a radio show on the Radiator, 105.9 FM? Tune in to the Haik Bedrosian Radio Program, 10-11 a.m. on Saturdays, according to the Radiator website. Of course, Haik's blog says his last show started at 11. I'm not sure who to believe...

Best Bites: Chef's Corner Brunch

Chef's Corner Café & Bakery

2121 Essex Road, Williston, 878-5524

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but as far as I'm concerned, you should judge a brunch joint by its eggs Benedict. In one fell swoop, the dish allows a critical diner to determine the quality of an eatery's bread, evaluate its preparation of a (slightly) tricky classic sauce, and see whether or not the staff has the perspicacity to poach eggs until the quivery, opaque exterior surrounds a burst of hot golden yolk. 

That's why, on many a Sunday morning, I find myself at Chef’s Corner Café & Bakery in Williston, staring down a goggling pair of oeufs topped with creamy, tangy and delicious hollandaise.

The big question is, "what's underneath?" Each week, in addition to the classic, a smoked salmon riff and vegetarian Florentine, chef-owners Jozef Harrewyn and Scott Sorrell dream up a crazy special — one week it was an excellent Teutonic version with sausages and sauerkraut.

Part of the fun is guessing what they’ll do on special occasions. For Valentine’s Day they swathed a beef tenderloin and mushroom stew in heart-shaped puff pastry shells, and topped 'em with the usual accouterments. Will St. Patrick’s day mean corned beef and cabbage Benedict? I’m hoping so. 

Not into the Benny? There are plenty of other delicious dishes to choose from, including light, fluffy quiche, Belgian waffles, French toast, and creative salads from the deli case: I've enjoyed their corn salad with cherry tomatoes as well as a bacon and broccoli combo.

No matter what you had for brunch, make sure to take home a few pastries, which range from an airy lemon Diplomat cake to decadent chocolate truffles.

Yes, Another Mayoral Debate!

Another day, another Burlington mayoral debate — or at least so it seems. This time, four of the five mayoral candidates will take questions from Seven Days staff writer Ken Picard.

Home_promoThe forum, sponsored by AARP-Vermont, takes place Thursday in the Hilton on Battery Street in Burlington from 6-7:30 p.m.

Roughly half of the questions will come from the moderator and the last half from the audience, according to David Reville, AARP-Vermont's spokesman. Some questions will focus on livable community issues such as transportation, mobility, and pedestrian safety while others will focus on housing and community development.

To learn more about the AARP's efforts on livability issues, check out the Burlington Livable Community Project.

AARP-Vermont is also providing folks with a voting guide  explaining the mayoral candidates views on a variety of these issues. Click here to go to the page on the AARP-VT website where you can download a PDF version of the guide.

For more information, call (802) 951-1397 or email [email protected]

Originally, I was supposed to put the candidates on the hot seat, but I have a family obligation that night. That the way things go when you have young kids and it's the week before February break (and when you don't consult the family calendar before making a work commitment at night). My thanks to Ken for stepping into the breech, and for the folks at AARP for making the last-minute adjustment.

Comcast Gets Schooled

Area school boards are coming to the defense of the Regional Educational Technology Network (RETN) in its brewing battle with telecom giant Comcast.

The Burlington School Board last week issued a resolution in support of RETN. Comcast is arguing to the state Public Service Board that it should be allowed to back out of two contracts with RETN to provide educational programming in Chittenden County.

Logo_retn As first reported in “Fair Game” two weeks ago, the telecom giant Comcast has been criticizing RETN and other providers of Public Educational and Governmental (PEG) services before the PSB and in the public arena. Comcast claims that RETN has mismanaged and misspent the money Comcast is required to give back to communities for the right to use the public airwaves to turn a profit. State and federal law enables Vermont to make cable companies use 5 percent of their gross revenues to finance this kind of programming.

RETN officials reject Comcast’s claims, saying they have answered all financial concerns and are willing to allow an outside audit. RETN claim’s the telecom giant is trying to micromanage its operations as a first step in having unprecedented say on how RETN and all PEG operators in Vermont spend public access dollars. 

Last week, the first school board in the region pushed back against Comcast’s PEG playground bullying. The board issued the following statement: "Be it resolved that the Burlington Board of School Commissioners appreciates and supports the work of RETN and its valuable contribution to students, the board, and the community of Burlington by providing public television access, enhancing democracy through transparency of government, and creating educational opportunities for students."

This resolution came despite a tersely-worded three-page letter from Comcast explaining that RETN was in the wrong and Comcast, it told the board, was only trying to “protect your constituents’ investments.”

Yeah, right. Comcast shouldn’t be casting the first stone. A recent management audit of the cable company faulted it for allowing the founding family to hold too much power over other shareholders. President and CEO Brian Roberts’ total compensation for 2007 was $20 million, a figure consultants called “excessive.”

According to Doug Dunbebin of RETN, Winooski’s school board voted to issue a statement of support similar to the one passed by Burlington. And South Burlington said it intended to draft a statement to be voted on at a future meeting.

This week RETN expects to file its official response to Comcast’s complaint to the Public Service Board.

UPDATE: This afternoon, RETN announced that it has completed its point-by-point response to Comcast's petition seeking to back out of its two contracts with the PEG provider.

Continue reading "Comcast Gets Schooled" »

Not as Sexy as Bob Kiss

The campaign videos keep a'comin' in Burlington's mayoral race.

Here's video #2 from Dan Smith's campaign (and yes, it appears to be from his official campaign). It's a little shorter than video #1, but features many of the same people, and some of the same lines.

Love that montage of Dan talking in his campaign office! But it's still not as sexy as that awesome photo of the Moran Plant, or the one of Bob Kiss running in the marathon. Click here for the sexy Bob Kiss vid.

Still waiting for videos featuring Kurt Wright and Andy Montroll.

February 16, 2009

Slideshow: Winter is a Drag Ball

DP-dscn3463 More than 1200 people attended this year's Winter is a Drag Ball hosted by the House of LeMay.

Check out the official Seven Days slideshow of photos submitted by area photographers.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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