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Letters to the Editor 

Self-Aggrandizing Review

With Rick Kisonak’s dour review of American Hustle [Movie Review, December 18] somehow I sense a familiar theme: another debunking of a film that has received wide acclaim. We’ve come to expect such counter-establishment trailblazing against the weight of popular opinion; history is punctuated by such. But more often than not today, artists, musicians and the intelligentsia, including critics, latch onto this notion for its shock value and the appearance of being a cultural trailblazer — the ones “in the know.” It’s a clever act of self-aggrandizement. 

The fact that this film resembles or “imitates” Martin Scorsese’s style is Rick’s main problem and leaves him searching for faults along those lines, ignoring the genuinely good parts (I thought the acting was superb and not just “serviceable”). It’s clear that Rick has some sort of personal Scorsese shrine he’s trying to protect, which is all well and good, but if a critic’s review becomes too personal or self-aggrandizing, it will always miss its target.

How can any interpretation of art not be personal? That is the critic’s historic dilemma, why this Seven Days review is off and why critics will never hold a place in the history books: They have to convey generalities out of the personal experience and nuance of any art. It’s like trying to employ the scientific method to decode, say, the nuance of a Rembrandt.

The best critics are the ones that accept the varieties of experience in viewing art and their own subjectivity towards it. In a word: humility. If I had never seen a Martin Scorsese film, then saw this one and enjoyed it, are my experiences wrong? That’s absurd. If for one day the critic could switch roles and create art themselves, that would surely be a day to stay in.  

Larry Altman

Burlington

Sure About Shoreland Protection

The quality of Vermont’s 800 lakes and ponds is becoming degraded, and poor shoreland development is one significant cause. Kathryn Flagg’s December 11 article, “Too Close to the Edge: Vermont Lawmakers to Focus on Shoreline Protection,” was accompanied by a photo of a recently deforested, steep lakeshore edge that could spell disaster for the small lake it borders in Benson. According to the article, the landowner cleared the parcel to avoid restrictions that could be enacted if a lakeshore protection bill, passed by the Vermont House in 2013, became law. The bill is now being debated in the Senate. 

As a shoreland property owner and avid user of Lake Champlain’s significant resources, I am concerned about threats to our water bodies. In my town, good development regulations prevent excessive shoreline clearing, reducing water pollution and habitat loss. These requirements protect property values and enjoyment of the lake for me and my neighbors. 

But this is not the case in other towns. Only about a quarter of Vermont municipalities have local standards to protect lakes and ponds. Inconsistent approaches among towns threaten our use of lakes and ponds for recreation, drinking water, wildlife habitat and flood protection. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that 82 percent of Vermont’s shorelands are in fair to poor condition — substantially more than Maine’s and New Hampshire’s. We now have an opportunity to slow, and even reverse, this situation with a bill pending in the legislature that is not designed to stop development on lakeshores. Nor will it prevent property owners from mowing their lawns or appropriately thinning trees for views. Rather, it will provide consistent standards that major improvements will have to meet. 

I know firsthand that it is possible to thoroughly enjoy all the amenities of a lake — swimming, boating and sunset vistas — with shoreland restrictions in place. Plus, I have the added benefit of knowing that my property values are protected, my family’s drinking water is safer, the water we swim in is cleaner and the mink we see playing along the shore will be there for years to come. 

Elizabeth Humstone

Charlotte

Humstone is the chair of the board of directors of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

Blind Mechanic: The Movie

Thanks for your profile of Edsel Hammond, the Charlotte-based car mechanic [“Auto Motivated,” January 8]. A short film portrait of Edsel, called “Edsel the Blind Mechanic,” was made by Andrea Grayson. The film premiered in the Vermont Filmmakers’ Showcase at the 2013 Vermont International Film Festival. For further information about the film, contact info@vtiff.org.

Orly Yadin

Burlington

Yadin is executive director of the Vermont International Film Festival.

Editor’s note: We learned about Edsel Hammond from Grayson’s film, in fact, and wrote the print version with her permission.

Nothing Funny About It

Paul Heintz’s column summarizes the bill being pushed through the Vermont legislature right now to change the ancient abortion laws that criminalize abortion [Fair Game: “A Choice Change,” January 15]. In the article, Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, calls the discussion “a joke.” I ask Beerworth, though, who is laughing? For a woman seeking reproductive health care, her decision is not “a joke.” Women should not be harassed, bullied, judged, shamed or laughed at by someone who opposes the decision she has made about her own pregnancy.

Beerworth goes on to describe the bill as “nonsensical.” Again, I question what is “nonsensical” about amending an outdated and unconstitutional statute written almost two centuries ago, in 1846. This statute sends the wrong message about Vermont’s position on reproductive health care and, in 2014, needs to go. As a young woman who is very aware of the often-dehumanizing debates that occur in legislatures across the country, I can assure you that this is not a joke. As we move forward in Vermont, I hope our legislature becomes a shining example for the rest of the country by passing this bill and ensuring safe and affordable reproductive health options for women.

Julia Dwyer

Burlington

All Ronk

[Re Movie Review, Inside Llewyn Davis January 8]: It would be more believable if the Coen brothers had said this film was inspired by an article in Cat Fancy magazine instead of Dave Van Ronk’s luminous memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street.

Van Ronk was a unique, larger-than-life, brilliant, charismatic, influential musician. How he inspired such a hapless, depressed, mediocre character like Llewyn Davis is one of the great mysteries of filmdom. I’m glad the cat got away before the film ended. He was the smart one.

Christine Lavin

New York City

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