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June 2009

June 30, 2009

Court Says No to Barre's Sex-Offender Residency Restrictions

Hagan A Washington Superior Court judge has ordered the city of Barre not to enforce an ordinance that limits where sex offenders may live, WPTZ is reporting.

A preliminary injunction was issued this morning by Judge Helen Toor, which stopped the city from forcing a 29-year-old convicted sex offender from vacating his current residence. The offender, Chris Hagan (pictured, with wife Amy), was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior with a 15 year old when he was 18.

Sally West Johnson profiled Hagan in the June 17 issue of Seven Days. As she points out in her story:

"No Easy Answers," a report published by Human Rights Watch in 2007, takes issue with the notion that imposing residency restrictions can prevent sex crimes. In fact, the authors argue, "among laws targeting sex offenders living in the community, residency restrictions may be the harshest as well as the most arbitrary. The laws can banish registrants from their already established homes, keep them from living with their families, and make entire towns off-limits to them, forcing them to live in isolated rural areas."

Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Best Bites: Duke's Creemees

160 River Street, Route 7, Milton, 309-3179160 River Street, Route 7, Milton, 309-3179

Summer 2009 003 I eat out a lot, and I also happen to live with a man who wants to go out for ice cream every night. That combination leads to a certain amount of malaise. Chocolate and vanilla creemees just don't cut it anymore. We need our soft-serve to be bigger, brighter, crazier. That’s why we make the trip to Milton, where we can get our frozen ya-yas out at Duke’s Creemees.

You might not spot it with a perfunctory drive-by — there's no sign. Look for Scales & Tails pet shop, then look at that tiny window with the picture of a creemee in front of it. Bingo.

On my last visit, I went with the delightfully pink Strawberry-almond creemee. It’s one of six strawberry varieties on the menu, from strawberry banana to strawberry colada. Of course, the selections aren’t all straight from the patch. There are 79 flavors, which come in only one very large size, and at one ridiculously low price — $1.90.

My all-time favorite is the Mint Chocolate Chip, a bracing mixture filled with tiny chips. That’s right – a creemee with chunks. You can get a cone of Chocolate Butterfinger or Oreo Mint with a smooth creemee texture. None of that Blizzard business for us.

I’m not crazy for candy, so my short list includes unique flavors such as Black Forest, Banana Rocky Road and Cocoa Kahlua. Care to join me for a cone of Blueberry Cheesecake?

June 29, 2009

Monday Evening Missile Launch Protest

Gotta hand it to the dedicated souls in Vermont's peace movement. On Monday evening, from 5 to 6 p.m., members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom are going ahead with a scheduled demonstration to protest the U.S. government's test launch of a Minuteman III missile, Vermont rain be damned.

Beginning at the downtown Burlington offices of Rep. Peter Welch, the group will make their way to Senator Leahy's office, then up to Bernie's pad on the top of Church Street to voice their outrage over the fact idea the U.S military needs to see if these nuclear bottle rockets still work.

As someone who's had the privilege — if you can call it that — of climbing down into the silo and launch facility of an actual Minuteman III missile at Malmstrom Air Force Base in northern Montana, I can assure you, these are some scary WMDs. Back in 2000, after a four-month background check, I was granted permission to interview U.S. Air Force missileers who sit in a hole in the ground 24 hours each day waiting to turn the key that blows up the world. Talk about hours of utter boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. They have to figure out if the codes coming into them all day are just practice war games or the actual judgment day.

One of my favorite parts of the story, which I wrote for the alt-weekly, Missoula Independent, was asking a female missileer how she explained the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction to her 5- and 6-year-old daughters. And you thought summarizing your job description on a resumé was tough.

Rainbow Redesign

0 I stumbled across the radio program, Studio 360 while driving yesterday. The show's topic for the week — 40 years after Stonewall, where is gay culture today? Though I managed to miss most of the other segments dedicated to this particular topic, one really caught my eye. Er, ears. It asked what the rainbow flag, originally designed in 1978 as a symbol of gay pride, would be like if designed today. To help them with the challenge, Studio 360 solicited the help of the design firm, Worldstudio.

Whether or not you feel the gay flag should be redesigned is, of course, another important topic of discussion. But even if you think the flag is just fine the way it is, take a gander at what Worldstudio came up with HERE. At the very least, it's fascinating (or at least it is to us designer nerds) to watch the process of identity and branding evolve. This is no doubt a challenging but exciting project for any design firm!

One of my favorites: the "pink" American flag. Yeah baby! Click here to see the results and vote for your favorites.

June 27, 2009

Chew-Chew Drain

Spring 2009 196 I love arcades. Whenever my weekend is clogged with butchering animals and visiting snack bars in the Northeast Kingdom, it's a given that I will be in Montreal, playing Street Fighter IV against far more adept Asian teenagers. Once a year, I look forward to the day that I can go to the food arcade — the Green Mountain Chew-Chew Food and Music Fest.

It's not that the food is uniformly great. It's not. It's all about atmosphere. The air is thick with smoky tastes and crowded with bodies — of a stunning variety of shapes and sizes — in pursuit of it. We have tokens (nine for $5), and we will use them. 

This year, the atmosphere is also pervaded with a certain desperation. Many folks arrived aware that this is their last time to nosh. Others realize only as they see T-shirts for sale — with a picture of a mustachioed conductor and the legend "Last Supper" — that after 24 years, this is the final Chew-Chew.

The word choice rings uncomfortably true at my first stop, The Dismas House's table. Its namesake, the criminal crucified next to Jesus who repented before death, suggests a darkness completely absent from the reformed criminals' delightful lime and butter-drenched grilled corn (three tokens) and squeezed-to-order lemonade (four). The nectar has long been one of my Chew-Chew favorites, very much like an awesome Vietnamese lemonade — bobbing sugar crystals and all.

My boyfriend James picks up a Sweet Italian sausage from Kevin's Wicked Mountain Dogs (four) and a plate of Pork Backribs with Smoky BBQ sauce from the Missisquoi Valley Lions Club. At just three tokens for what appears to be about a quarter rack, this is one of the best deals of the day.

I grab a cardboard tray of the bemusingly named "New York City Chicken & Rice" (four) at Amir's Kebab. I've had his eponymous dish and am in search of something new. A few lanes over, I grab a Cuban panino (three) at the Price Chopper Supermarkets stand. It's a large half sandwich stuffed with thinly sliced pork, a mild pickle sliced lengthwise and an herbed mayo.

Ready for dessert, we press on. For just two tokens, Sam Mazza's Farm is doling out moist and cinnamony cider donuts. I try their strawberry shortcake, too (four). At New Moon Cafe they've got soft raspberry scones (two), which immediately convert me, Dismas-like, from a scone-hater. I will be back to their shop for more. Their chocolate chip cookies (two for three tokens) ooze with gooey dark chocolate.
James hits the T-shirt stand for a $5 bask in 2005 nostalgia. This year's fashion is $15, but duds going as far back as 1996 are a third the price.

Rumors are circulating around the Chew-Chew track that this is not really the end of the festival — more a finale of the format. A reliable source hints that next year, the event may be reborn as a barbecue fest. I can hardly wait to buy my tokens.

June 26, 2009

Comcast Completes Audit of RETN Finances

A long-awaited review of Regional Educational Technology Network's finances by telecom giant Comcast is complete, with no major findings of irregularity or a need to probe further.

That's good news for RETN officials, who have feared that Comcast would try to exert undue and unprecedented oversight on its day-to-day operations. Comcast disagrees with what RETN and other public-access channels spend on certain equipment and programming. The company currently has a petition before state regulators.

The two sides, which have been locked in tough negotiations for more than a year, have also agreed in the past 24 hours to attempt to resolve their disputes by meeting face to face, said Scott Campitelli, RETN’s executive director. The first negotiation will take place on July 2.

"We're hopeful a negotiated settlement can be reached," Campitelli told Seven Days.

Continue reading "Comcast Completes Audit of RETN Finances" »

Ready for a Roundup on the Winooski River?

On June 24, Brian Tokar wrote this interesting post for the Green Mountain Daily about the expanding practice of planting "Roundup Ready" (i.e., genetically engineered) corn along the Winooski River between Plainfield and East Montpelier. Brian noted a recent study showing that the chemicals in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup are lethal to amphibians at low doses. Monsanto, it seems, is not a fan of the GEICO gecko.

But, as Environmental Health News also reported last week, a so-called "inert" chemical in Monsanto's chemical weed whacker has been shown to kill human cells, too, especially embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells. You know, like the ones that are so promising in stem cell research? Like the ones keeping my 7-and-a-half-month-old unborn child alive? Yeah, those cells. As EHN's Crystal Gammon reports, nearly 4000 such inert chemicals are approved for use by the EPA. One researcher called the toxicity findings "astonishing." "Pretty fucked up" is more like it.

I know the P in "EPA" stands for Protection, but who exactly are they protecting?

The King of Pop, Charlie's Angel and the Big Bad Media Complex

By now, no doubt everyone has heard of today's dual celebrity deaths. Michael Jackson died of suspected cardiac arrest at 50 years old and Farrah Fawcett succumbed to cancer at age 62. You'd have to be living in a cave or the Arctic Circle not to have heard the news. The national media had been talking for days of Fawcett's imminent demise, so her death was less of a shock then Jackson's, but no less sad. What does this have to do with Vermont? Nothing, but it's likely to be the main topic of conversation at offices and neighborhood baseball fields and weekend barbecues for a good while. 

I imagine today will be much like the day that JFK was assassinated, Princess Diana died in a car accident or the planes hit the Twin Towers — everyone will remember where they were when they heard the news that the King of Pop was dead. I was sitting in Uncommon Grounds, writing a story for next week's Seven Days, when I took a break to check the headlines and saw that Michael Jackson had suffered a heart attack. Shortly after that, news spread around the café that the Los Angeles Times was reporting that Jackson died at around 2:30 p.m. PST at UCLA Medical Center.

It's an odd thing how a major news event can make casual acquaintances out of complete strangers. Since I had my computer open, I was the de facto disseminator of information. I read the preliminary reports from NPR, MSNBC and the L.A. Times out loud as my fellow patrons sipped their soy lattes. My friend who was with me at the time is a cardiologist and wondered aloud how a seemingly healthy man like Jackson could have died from cardiac arrest, which apparently is not the same thing as a heart attack. What were his risk factors; was he ill; were there drugs involved? Everyone around us was speculating as well.

To get an in-depth account of what had happened, or at least something longer than a sentence or two, I tried to get on the L.A. Times website, but it was jammed full of people trying to do the same thing. It was refreshing to see that when an event of huge national and international interest happens, people still seek out the newspaper, albeit online, for confirmation and analysis. As a former daily newspaper reporter who still loves that medium, I am grateful for that.

Not a half an hour after Jackson died, NPR posted a massive obituary written by national arts correspondent Neda Ulaby. Obviously they had that one in the can for a while. Not everyone might know this, but major media organizations keep files upon files of obits written pre-death for politicians, celebrities and other people of some import.  These obits periodically get updated so they're ready in the event of an untimely death, such as Jackson's.

I've just finished watching Martin Bashir's "Nightline" special report on Jackson's death and I'm in the middle of the Barbara Walters' "20/20" special on Farrah Fawcett's life, filmed just days before she died. It's amazing that these shows can get pulled together as quickly as they are.  The first show aired at 9 p.m. EST, giving the producers less than four hours to string together an hour-long program. It is impressive to say the least.

Traditional media weren't the only ones working overtime on this. As soon as Jackson's death was reported, Twitter was ablaze with people posting about it. Links were flying around and people were asking if the news was indeed true. There wasn't one Twitter post on my Tweet Deck that wasn't about Jackson. The site was so jammed with people posting about the same event that it was tough to get on it. It was then that I realized just how many people are using the micro-blogging site to get news and information, for better or for worse.

Still, when I think about getting accurate, timely information about something as captivating as Jackson's death, my first bet is always traditional media. No blogger, no tweeter, no citizen journalist can give the depth of coverage needed and wanted. I might be biased, since I ply my trade in written words that are more than 140 characters long. But it's a bias I'll happily cop to.

How have you found the coverage of these two Hollywood deaths to be? Or do you even care? I'd be interested to know.  

June 25, 2009

Judge to Release Records of Fired City Manager

Roughly one year after Burlington officials put the city's waterfront manager on paid leave during a wide-ranging investigation, a Superior Court judge is scheduled to release documents detailing the probe that led to his suspension and eventual termination.

In two weeks, Superior Court Judge Dennis Pearson will release most of the documents related to the ongoing fracas involving waterfront manager Adam Cate, the city's Parks & Recreation Commission, Parks & Recreation Director Wayne Gross, Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold and his assistant Ben Pacy.

Boathouse William Rasch, a union steward within the Parks Department, took the city to court earlier this year after the city denied him access to some documents related to the Cate investigation. Leaked versions of the commission's investigation, which largely appeared to clear Cate and put the blame on the Kiss administration, found their way into the Burlington Free Press.

“Based upon published accounts based upon a leaked copy of the Park Commission’s findings, conclusions, and decision the Parks Commission whitewashed Mr. Cate’s wrongdoing, even though it was admitted, because it furthered the parochial interests of the department in a dispute with City Hall,” argued Rasch's attorney John Franco in his brief to the court earlier this year.

Pearson agreed with Franco, noting that only a near-complete release of the records in question can clear the air. Pearson said he did redact some information from the records—largely names of subordinate employees caught up in the turmoil. He is also withholding some documents entirely, though he did not indicate what those records could contain.

"The bits and pieces that have already been 'leaked' to the press or public simply confuse the issues, lead to innuendo rather than knowledge, and detract from a fuller public understanding of the matters raised," writes Pearson in his ruling.

Continue reading "Judge to Release Records of Fired City Manager" »

Vermont Yankee Forum — Hot

About 150 people crammed into a steamy film house Wednesday night to hear a panel of experts talk largely about the cons of relicensing  the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

The Vermont legislature is likely to take up the issue next session, noted Rep. Adam Greshin (I-Warren), who was one of the panelists. Greshin explained that at least two or three committees in the House and Senate could have some jurisdiction over any legislation dealing with keeping the state's lone nuke plant open for another 20 years.

Staff writer Ken Picard (who previewed the forum) and myself attended the hearing last night, and I covered it live via Twitter. To read the full Tweet stream, click on my Twitter page here. You may have to click a few pages in to read the full account.

Things got pretty stuffy in the un-air-conditioned theater during the two-hour meeting, making me wonder if Vermont Yankee knew about the event and reduced the flow of electrons to the Mad River Valley. Just kidding.

The first hour was taken up by presentations from the individual panelists on everything from the health impacts of being exposed to radiation to what forms of power could replace VY. The second hour was devoted to audience members asking questions of the panel.

The forum was not a pro/con debate about Vermont Yankee or nuclear power in general, but an "educational" event, said organizers.

Here's a sample of Tweets:

If #VT Yankee stays open, renewable energy in VT will languish. "If your fridge is full, you don't go to the grocery store."

Lawrence Mott explaining #VT energy portfolio. Says if VT Yankee shuts down, lights will stay on. "Electrons will still flow"

Gundersen notes #VT Yankee has poor procedures in place & not written down. Mostly in employees' heads and most are close to retire

Panelists are done at #VT Yankee forum. Now onto audience questions - Ken Picard asks first Q: What are health impacts of VY on VTers?

Nancy Chickering says not sure of exact rad impacts from #VT Yankee but effects can show up 20 years after exposure

Audience: Isn't nuke cheaper? Mott says no. New nuke in TX is $8K per kWH vs $3K per kwh for wind

Audience: Is there a statewide #VT plan for fostering renewable energy? (Me: Um, no)

Panel: Moore sez #VT Gov Douglas is not really planning for energy future. Hope to renew VY and HydroQuebec. Not renewables.

Audience: Who will pay for decommissioning of #VT Yankee?

Greshin: Entergy Co. is responsible for #VT Yankee waste. Moore: Separate Entergy LLC is responsible. Gundersen: Taxpayers will pay

Audience: How will you, Rep. Greshin, vote on #VT Yankee? He won't answer. Audience boos. Shouts. (no compost is thrown tho)

Moderator pleads for calm, asks folks to take up individual conservations (shouting matches?) after #VT Yankee forum

Gundersen closer at #VT Yankee forum: "At some point in a foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs"

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

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