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Letters to the Editor 

September 26, 2007

ART = LIFE = POLITICS

The Art Hop is about art, and art is about life. Art teaches us to see, think and feel life outside its strictly "artistic" borders. Art does not end at the picture frame, the last page or the curtain call.

This is especially true of political art, and more specifically, the art of Peter Schumann ["Peter Schumann's Art Hop Exhibit Sparks Controversy," September 12]. His paintings routinely leap off canvases onto stages, streets and fields around the world. His production produces puppeteers here and abroad, and these puppeteers charge into the issues surrounding their world. During summer, the Bread & Puppet Theater farm is visited by other theater groups. Evenings are devoted to activist speakers, poets and musicians. And Peter's work does not end when the show is over.

That Joel Kovel, an old puppeteer, scholar, political activist and longtime friend of the theater, should be invited to extend the content of Peter's Palestine show beyond the walls of 696 Pine St. is completely logical and consistent with Peter's work.

"This is politics," a loud contingent of the audience members complained about Joel's talk. "It doesn't belong here," they say. Of course, that didn't stop the contingent from leafleting the audience, posting flyers and generally trying to disrupt Kovel's talk with aggressive muttering, badgering, shouting and flag-waving throughout. That didn't stop them from starting a political campaign to get individuals and businesses to withdraw sponsorship from the Art Hop.

Political art addresses the polis about urgent issues affecting people's lives, and the Israel-Palestine conflict is an urgent issue. This month, the back room of 696 is devoted to a political art show. Being accompanied by related speakers, films, community discussion and controversy are legitimate dimensions of such work.

I hope the Art Hop will not be cowed by low-grade violence and financial threats into disallowing the multi-dimensional existence of political art. The Art Hop is about art, and art is about life.

Marc Estrin

BURLINGTON

Estrin is a member of Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel.

BLEEDING GREEN

Who killed the Green Party of Vermont? As a long-time Green Party member, I am saddened to declare my disassociation with the Green Party of Vermont. This was not an easy decision for me and I know it was not an easy decision for many others. Like others, I can no longer endorse the abusive tactics of Craig Hill and Steve Ekberg. Too many people have been sent harassing emails. Too many people have been harassed in public. Too many people have been harassed because of their sexuality, their gender, their religion or their political identification. Too many people have been told to "shut up." Too many people have been interrupted.

No one deserves this treatment. Not even those who are perpetuating the abuse. For this reason, the Green Party will never grow in Vermont. The name has been soiled and it will take years to repair the damage.

I am proud to identify with the Green Party of the United States, but on a local level, I am now a member of the World Citizens Party of Vermont.

René Kaczka-Vallière

BURLINGTON

Kaczka-Valliere is treasurer of the World Citizens Party of Vermont

LEGAL MEANS LIABLE

The reason college presidents are so keen on changing the legal age for drinking is because they don't want their institutions to be liable for deaths, accidents or other mishaps due to underage drinking on their campuses ["All Stirred Up," August 22].

They also don't want any of the responsibilities associated with keeping underage students from drinking, such as offering healthy, alcohol-free alternatives, alcohol-free dorms and/or campuses and alcohol-use prevention programs.

Joellen Mulvaney

BARRE

BALLOT BALLYHOO

Is anyone else besides me sick of insinuations that voting for third party candidates is "being a spoiler?" In his interview with potential Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney ["Will Cynthia McKinney Be the New Nader?" August 22], Patrick Ripley alluded to this issue when he asked about people's anger at Nader for running in 2000.

Leaving aside all the evidence of voter fraud in that election, my beef is not so much against those who denigrate other people's voting strategies as it is about how we even have to use a "strategy" at all. Not when there's a simple remedy that obviates having to vote for our second choice in a defensive ploy to keep our last choice from winning. It's called Instant Run-off Voting (IRV). It's too confusing, right? Baloney! What's so hard about putting a "1" next to your first choice, a "2" next to your second, and so on? And if it is too hard for you to figure out, just vote for your first choice the way you always have.

As far as the specious argument that preference voting systems violate the "one person, one vote" rule: If you truly understand how it works, you can easily see how each person still gets their vote counted only once. Leaders like Nader, McKinney and their ilk are the real voices of reason in our society. Come election time, they deserve the chance to see how many people support their positions. My slogan for the Greens in 2008: "IRV = It's Really Viable."

Russ Weis

FLETCHER

SCHU-DA-MANN

Even a staid critic like Lionel Trilling would regard Peter Schumann's "Independence Paintings" as exemplifying artistic imagination ["Peter Schumann's Art Hop Exhibit Sparks Controversy," September 12]. This installation provokes and moves by drawing a relationship between two sets of ideas - those concerning the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, and those concerning the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Force. People in the United States are discouraged from connecting these two ideas. For a resident of Israel, on the other hand, Schumann's vision, while exciting debate, would not be so startling.

Readers of the daily newspaper Ha'aretz, for instance, would know the commentaries of Amira Hass, the only Israeli reporter to live in the occupied territories. Hass denounces what she calls Israel's apartheid policies. In a poignant introduction to her book, "Drinking the Sea at Gaza," she vows not to be like the German women who looked away when her mother was loaded onto the train to Bergen-Belsen, which is why she chooses to expose the jail-like conditions of Gaza and West Bank refugee camps in her writing. In the United States we need more voices like Schumann's and Hass's, voices willing to examine through art and commentary what Hass charges is "the central contradiction of the state of Israel - democracy for some, dispossession for others." We also need to raise the question: What interest is the United States defending by maintaining Israel as a military superpower? U.S. interests in the Middle East, I fear, that have little to do with safety and rights for any population.

Nancy Welch

BURLINGTON

CREDIT DUE

In "Censored!" [September 12] author Amanda Witherell takes an insightful look at this year's top stories censored by the corporate media. Local readers might like to know that it was actually the Burlington-based progressive publication http://Towardfreedom.com that published the number-two censored story of the year, "Bush Moves Toward Martial Law," by Frank Morales. Project Censored mistakenly listed Uruknet as the original publisher of the article and has since corrected the mistake on their website, http://www.projectcensored.org/censored_2008/index.htm.

Ben Dangl

BURLINGTON

Dangl is the editor of http://Towardfreedom.com.

NUMBERS SUPPORT LEGAL AGE 21

John McCardell highlights some data on the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) issue ["All Stirred Up," August 22]. Unfortunately, he is selective in what he presents. For example, he dismisses the fact that when the National MLDA was effectively raised to 21 in 1985, alcohol traffic fatality rates among teens began to drop immediately, and continue to fall. He makes the claim that this is primarily due to safer cars, more widespread alcohol education, shifts in population demographics, and the popularity of the designated driver idea. There is little doubt that these and other factors contributed to the drop in alcohol-related teen traffic fatalities, but there is absolutely no doubt that a major reason is the MLDA 21 laws. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that MLDA 21 has resulted in a 13 percent overall reduction in U.S. traffic fatalities. In Vermont, the alcohol-related fatality rate has declined by 80 percent since 1982. Again, this is due to a combination of factors, including the MLDA 21.

There are other data that are germane to the issue. In 1999, New Zealand lowered the MLDA from 20 to 18. The results were dramatic. In the four years following the reduction in the MLDA, alcohol-involved crash rates increased by 12 percent among 18 and 19-year-old males and a staggering 51 percent among 18 and 19-year-old females. Because of these data, the same elected official who led the fight to reduce the MLDA is now spearheading the movement to raise it back up. The authors of this peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2006 stated: "No traffic safety policy with the possible exception of motorcycle safety helmet laws has more evidence for its effectiveness than do the minimum legal drinking age laws."

While the MLDA 21 may not completely prevent underage drinking, it is a considerable deterrent. Research has demonstrated that delaying the onset of alcohol use until early adulthood significantly reduces social, neurological and medical consequences of long-term alcohol consumption. The American Medical Association reported that the negative health-related consequences of alcohol use are amplified in the developing brains and bodies of teens. Any policy that increases access to alcohol for teens needs to be evaluated in light of the increased risk of adverse health consequences. To suggest, as McCardell does, that increasing access to alcohol among 18 to 20 year olds will somehow reduce alcohol-related problems in this age group is counter to all scientific research on the issue. Simply put, increased access means increased consumption and increased abuse. In many European countries where the MLDA is as low as 16, consumption and binge drinking rates among adolescents are considerably higher than they are in the United States.

Finally, one fact that McCardell and his organization do not mention is that lowering the MLDA to 18 will have trickle-down effects on drinking rates of even younger teens. Many 18-year-olds are high school seniors who would be able to legally purchase alcohol and share it with their younger friends and siblings. In the New Zealand experience, the rate of alcohol-involved crashes among 15 to 17-year-olds increased by 14 percent in males and 24 percent in females after the MLDA was lowered to 18.

Congratulations are in order for the strong and healthy relationship Dr. McCardell has with his children. The fact that he could safely and comfortably share alcohol with them speaks highly of his parenting skills. Not all parents are so talented. Not all children are so receptive to such attention. Many parents and their children do not enjoy the idyllic relationship that McCardell describes. Is that part of the problem that contributes to teenage alcohol use and abuse? Absolutely. Is the solution to increase the availability of alcohol? Absolutely not.

Lowering the drinking age may be conceptually appealing, especially to college presidents who could then wash their hands of efforts to curtail drinking on and near campuses. It would make their lives a lot easier. They would no longer be responsible for any hazardous behavior related to alcohol consumption by their students. Notice that there are no research scientists in the field who are endorsing this idea, but college presidents can't get on the bandwagon fast enough. Who else would benefit from lowering the MLDA? You can be sure that Anheuser Busch and Captain Morgan Rum have television ads already in the planning stage to appeal to 18-year-olds and younger.

John S. Searles, Ph.D.

CHARLOTTE

Searles is a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He has researched alcohol issues for 20 years.

CORRECTIONS

* A story that appeared in our September 12 issue ["Proposed Tire Bill Underscores Solid-Waste Woes"] incorrectly cited nationwide tire-disposal fees. The statistics were specific to Vermont. Also, the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District was incorrectly abbreviated. The correct abbreviation is CVSWMD.

* A story that ran in last week's issue ["Over the Wall"] incorrectly identified Josh Neirman's title. He is president of Chabad at The University of Vermont.

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