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December 2009

December 16, 2009

See Precious at the Roxy this Friday and benefit Women Helping Battered Women


Everyone in the entertainment business is talking about Precious. 

Not only are Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry signed on as executive producers, but the film features acting cameos by BET legend Mo'Nique, singers Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, and actress Paula Patton. 

It's receiving raucous media hype from academics and reviewers in The New York Times, The New York Press, and the Washington Post for its dismal glimpse into inner-city African American domestic life. And it's attracted audiences, too, earning nearly four times its published production budget.

Set in Harlem in 1987, Precious is the story of a young black woman who has endured every imaginable societal horror: She is 300 pounds, illiterate, HIV-positive and pregnant with her second child, the product of her absentee father's rape. Her mother is an inconsolable monster who sabotages Precious' every aspiration and emotional and physical health. It is only with the aid of a social worker (Carey) and a caring teacher (Patton) that Precious has any chance at salvation on Earth.

This Friday, December 18, Merrill's Roxy Cinemas and Women Helping Battered Women have teamed up for a benefit as Lee Daniels' Precious premieres in Vermont.

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December 15, 2009

Best Bites: Ben & Bill's Deli

595 Shelburne Road, Burlington 657-3673

Fall 2009 216

When I was a kid, Jewish delis scared me a little. Looking into the case, I was nose-to-nose with the piles of chub and their cured, dead eyes. The old-world smells seemed somehow unclean. This is why they hate us, I thought.

Since Ben & Bill's opened in the Burlington Price Chopper, I have been facing my fears, and then some. Two days after eating a Hot Brisket sandwich ($8.49), I am still swooning. The well-marbled but otherwise lean meat tastes almost creamy, especially in a light bath of Russian dressing. The warm, seeded rye on which the meat lies is baked in-house. It's mild but for the musky crunch of the caraway seeds.

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December 14, 2009

Parini Film Adaptation Makes Those NYC Arthouse Crowds Swoon

Last-station Last February I reported that an all-star movie adaptation of Middlebury prof Jay Parini's novel The Last Station was in the works.

The finished film hit big-city theaters on December 4, and it's already been nominated for as many Spirit awards (for indie films) as Precious.

That's a lot of attention for a period piece about old folks, even if the old guy in question happens to be none other than Leo Tolstoy. It certainly helps that the movie features fiery performances from Christopher Plummer as the great writer, Helen Mirren as his wife (who isn't crazy about his new belief in celibacy), and James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti as his disciples, one of whom finds himself tempted by the delights of the flesh.

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A Good Excuse to Play Tetris

Tetris Reading the Sunday New York Times magazine is one of my favorite things to do over the weekend, but yesterday, I was disappointed to see that it was time again for the "Year in Ideas" issue. I normally don't enjoy this issue. In fact, I don't think I've ever read it cover to cover, as I usually do with the magazine. I'm not sure if that's because I get annoyed at some of the ideas they pick — seriously? the editors at the New York Times think that's a good idea?!? — or if it's because I'm annoyed that they didn't pick any of my ideas.

So I was surprised yesterday when I glanced through the magazine and found a brilliant idea I loved. Apparently, a group of British scientists published a paper last January, about the theraputic affects of playing the video game "Tetris." They found that "Tetris" might help treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mainly because it keeps the brain from fixating on painful visual memories.

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December 12, 2009

Protesters Denounce Obama's Troop "Surge" in Afghanistan

IMG_0605 More than 100 people gathered in front of Burlington's City Hall Saturday to protest President Barack Obama's planned troop "surge" in Afghanistan.

Braving bitter winds and temperatures in the twenties, the protesters listened to a wide range of speakers, from University of Vermont students new to the anti-war movement to some of its stalwart members.

The protest is one of several being held across the nation. Several people were unable to trek to Washington, DC for a rally, so they opted for Burlington. That was the case for Peter Bartlett (pictured left), of St. Albans.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced he was adding 30,000 troops to the war effort in Afghanistan. The United States invaded Afghanistan shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in an effort to track down Osama bin Laden and other Al Quaeda leaders.

The Vermont National Guard is part of that surge, and is in the midst of its largest troop deployment since World War II. It will send 1500 soldiers off to prepare for battle in the next several weeks. About 350 soldiers shipped out yesterday.

The protest, which was spearheaded by local activist Jonathan Leavitt, was sponsored by a variety of groups.

"This is the start of rebuilding the anti-war movement in Burlington," Leavitt told the crowd. "Just as Obama is calling for a surge in Afghanistan, we need a surge in the anti-war movement to bring our troops home."

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December 11, 2009

Comcast, RETN Settle Contract Dispute

The Vermont Public Service Board has dismissed a case involving a long-running dispute between Comcast and the Regional Educational Technology Network (RETN) over how public-access money was being spent in Chittenden County.

The case was closed after the PSB accepted a settlement agreement between the two parties. That settlement agreement was filed with the board in late September and finally approved Thursday.

Comcast and RETN issued the following joint statement this afternoon:

“Comcast and RETN have signed a five-year agreement that ensures quality educational access programming and related services will be provided to the towns of Burlington, Charlotte, Essex, Essex Junction, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg, St. George, Shelburne, South Burlington, Vergennes, Waltham, Williston, and Winooski. As a result, both parties requested that the Vermont Public Service Board dismiss Docket #7497, which it has done.”

In a separate statement, RETN officials said they were glad that the dispute, which began in January, had come to an end.

"We are pleased to have secured full funding for the programming and services we provide our communities and cable subscribers,” said RETN spokesperson Doug Dunbebin. “We now look to our statewide association, the Vermont Access Network, and offer our full support as it works to resolve important issues facing public, educational and government access television in Vermont.”

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The Salmon Speech (video edition)

Plenty of folks expressed an interest in my column this week, in particular as it pertains to State Auditor Tom Salmon and his use of a taxpayer-purchased camcorder to record a speech at a political fundraiser in June.

As I detailed in this week's "Fair Game", we at Seven Days decided to request that Salmon's office produce the contents of the camcorder as it is a public record under state law. They did comply, and charged us $105 to produce the three DVDs.

I've embedded the video detailed in the column, a roughly 13-minute speech delivered to a small group of supporters at a June 11 fundraiser. The event was dubbed "Welcome Home, Tom!" and asked folks to donate as little as $25 to be "Friends of Tom" or $500 to be an event sponsor.

A note to viewers/readers: I inadvertently added an extra five minutes of video to the political fundraiser event. The fundraiser speech lasts about 13:10, the rest is a clip from a speech he gave to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

It's helpful to put the timing of this even into context. At the time, Salmon, still a Democrat at the time, was making noise that he wanted to run for governor — in 2012.

As of June, Gov. Jim Douglas was still running for reelection in 2010, and though it would have been a tough bid, it's likely he would have won a fifth term in office. That all changed in August when Douglas decided to not run for reelection. A month later, Salmon jumped stream and joined the Republican Party.

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VT National Guard Send-Off in Pictures

Vermont National Guard soldier Matt Doyon (pictured at right, below) packed his Army duffel bag with an Xbox and the video game NHL '10 for his deployment to Afghanistan. Fellow soldier Dan Baillargeon (pictured at left) packed an ultrasound picture of his unborn child, due in seven months.

DSC04639 Both are 23 years old, both are privates first-class in the Guard's 1-172nd Cavalry Squadron. And for both young men, it's their first overseas deployment — a mission they admit to being "a little nervous" about.

Doyon and Baillargeon were among the 350 Vermont National Guard soldiers who shipped off for Afghanistan Friday morning following a send-off ceremony at UVM's Patrick Gymnasium. They first go to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for training, then home for the holidays, then to Afghanistan for a one-year tour of duty.

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Siegel's "Big Fan" Deserves a Big Audience

Big-fan This year's celebrity blog postings offer one resounding conclusion: Sports, alcohol, sex and celebrity-dom do not mesh well. (They make for high ratings, though.)

Today it's Tiger Woods' harrowing sex faux pas (whoops!) that yielded a laundry list of personal apologies and a golf-clubbed SUV. Yesterday, QB Michael Vick was released from an 18-month stint in prison for his involvement in gambling, drug use and the "Bad Newz Kennels," an interstate dog-fighting ring.

Tomorrow, it could easily be a tête-à-tête between best friends A-Rod and Jeter over who's taken fewer steroids. One just can't predict the zany future of sports scandal and violence, on and off the field.

But what happens when this rage spell comes between fan and player? Between loyal subject and emperor? Things get more complicated; inner worlds crumble, the score changes, and lifelong loyalties are threatened. 

Robert Siegel's directorial debut Big Fan (2009) is an excellent playing ground for recreating the behind-the-scenes face-offs in the sports stratosphere. When self-declared "NY Giants' biggest fan" Paul Aufiero (played by chubster comedian Patton Oswalt) is beaten up by his favorite Giants player in a drunken strip-club exchange, Aufiero has his own blue-collar version of an existential crisis. Like Kierkegaard, he chooses to remain loyal to his faith and true colors (red and blue), refusing to press charges against the grizzly Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). A blind faith only fans of American football can attest to.

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December 10, 2009

Federal Media Shield Law Goes to Full Senate

DSC_2587BIG The Senate Judiciary Committee announced this afternoon it has reached a compromise on legislation to enact a so-called "shield law" that would prevent journalists from being held in contempt of court, fined or jailed for refusing to reveal confidential sources.

Since April, the law has been shepherded through the committee by its chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The media shield legislation was introduced by Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in February. These senators, along with Leahy, have been working with the Obama administration to craft legislation that ensures some sources are not protected — such as in cases involving national security. It also does not protect "terrorists" working as journalists. Damn.

The legislation, officially named "The Free Flow of Information Act," was approved by the committee by a bipartisan vote of 14 to 5.

“The Free Flow of Information Act strikes the right balance among the important objectives of protecting our nation, enforcing our criminal laws and ensuring freedom of expression,” said Leahy. “After years of debate and countless cases of reporters being held in contempt, fined and even jailed for honoring their professional commitment not to publicly reveal their sources, the time has come to enact a balanced federal shield law.”

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