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ED FLANAGAN RESPONDS

[In response to the Seven Days cover story, “Continuing Ed,” on May 20]: I received numerous emails asking about my traumatic brain-injury experience, and I wanted to share with fellow Vermonters some useful resources. Two books on neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to train or retrain itself, to create new pathways and to use more and different parts of our gray matter, are: Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and This Is Your Brain on Music. These books shattered my school-boy impressions of the left brain-right brain dichotomy and demonstrate that activities like reading, playing cards, listening to Bob Dylan or playing football can be performed at high levels and in unique ways using formerly unused parts of the brain or activating parts of the brain that perform related functions.

Through “mindful meditation,” visualization, note taking, and discussions, I focus on both broad goals and steps in a process. I also retrained my brain to merge double images (see Oliver Sacks’ New Yorker article on diplopia). Regarding the essential role of caregivers, see the heartbreaking and inspiring scene in the Bob Woodward documentary where his children try to reteach him the word “belt buckle.” Oliver Sacks’ books (e.g., The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) and the movie Awakenings show the range of behavior patients may display, which outsiders often interpret as “eccentric.” As for how “it” feels, sometimes I feel like a funny bone (or tuning fork) that has been hit and resonates for a while. Thanks for the curious and supportive emails.

Ed Flanagan

BURLINGTON

DON’T OUTSOURCE CORRECTIONS

[“Vermont Pulls Its Inmates from Cut-Rate Alabama Prison,” May 27] illustrates the insanity of private, for-profit, out-of-state incarceration. And, by the way, what compensation is paid to families who can no longer afford the travel to visit their relatives?

For-profit, private prisons, like police departments keeping forfeiture gains, are obscenities.

Some things cost money. Perhaps we need to figure out the cheapest way to prevent criminal development when folks are young — e.g., better schools, better guidance at home and school, and better job opportunities, instead of slapping the lowest-cost, used and contaminated bandage on the problem after it has grown to the point where the problem cannot be denied.

Geoff Thomas

MADISON, N.J.

SO LONG, SMOKEJACKS

For years we have been choosing Burlington as a vacation destination. Yesterday, we arrived in Burlington to find to our dismay that one of our primary attractions, Smokejacks, has closed [“Where There’s Smokejacks, There’s Fire,” October 8, 2008]. I can only say that the town does not seem the same. We enjoyed our dinner at the American Flatbread Company a lot, but nothing can replace the great food, local ingredients, accessibility and fun atmosphere of our beloved Smokejacks. A real loss! Hopefully nothing will happen to Penny Cluse — another gem.

Simone Deneau

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

FLANAGAN’S FIT

Thanks for your in-depth article on Ed Flanagan [“Continuing Ed,” May 20]. It asks and I believe answers “Should he continue in office?” with a resounding “Yes.” Those who work and interact with Sen. Flanagan, regardless of party, have responded most affirmatively, notwithstanding the “popcorn” incident or counting change … Being the father of a daughter who also had a serious auto accident with similar brain damage, I can give testimony to the resulting and long-lasting physical pain and occasional slowness in finding the right words to express her mind’s sharpness. It is also most understandable that anyone with significant back and foot pain seeks relief, as they can, by removing their shoes or going horizontal to ease the situation. It takes enormous will and mental strength to override our physical limitations, and Flanagan is a great example of doing so. It’s the same kind of strength and will that I would hope to find in a state representative.

Ken Swearingen

BURLINGTON

FRIEND OF FLANAGAN

Senator Ed Flanagan has been a leader in Vermont for years, spanning more than a decade of devoted work, including his noteworthy leadership advocating for universal health care.

I have been friends and colleagues with Ed for years, both before his accident and also afterwards [“Continuing Ed,” May 20]. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him on the Corrections Oversight Committee, and have had many in-depth discussions with him just this past year about the issues, ramifications and strategies involved in passing solid legislation that finds alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders that reduces crime and saves taxpayer dollars.

I have found our discussions on these and a variety of other issues helpful, particularly when Ed articulates the importance of standing up for the “regular folks” and those struggling to make ends meet. I am proud to work with Ed and will continue to collaborate with him as long as we serve in the Statehouse together.

Jason P. Lorber

BURLINGTON

Lorber is a state rep from Burlington.

THERE’S MORE TO BRATTLEBORO…

I can’t believe that you wrote an article on Brattleboro’s cultural amenities without mentioning the Brattleboro Music Center [“The Other B-Town,” May 27]. The BMC was founded in 1952 by Blanche Honegger Moyse and has offered classes and concerts to the Brattleboro area ever since. With hundreds of students, two choruses, an orchestra and a chamber music series, the BMC brings classical music to the lives of thousands of people. I no longer live in Brattleboro, but when I did, the BMC was the town’s top attraction to me. I know that is true of others as well.

Barbara Hilliard

WATERTOWN, MA

CRIMINALIZATION DOESN’T WORK

Thank you for the profile of Mark Tucci, the green thumb behind Vermont’s medical marijuana movement [“Growing Legit,” May 6]. Obama has been harassing users and a petition is now circulating to encourage him to get off their backs, as he had promised to do.

If Congress was ever concerned about health problems from drug misuse, they would have outlawed nicotine, tobacco and cigarettes which kill many times more people than marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc., combined. Moreover, they knew from alcohol prohibition that prohibition does not work to reduce drug abuse. Why, then, did they concoct “The Drug War”?

Simple. By criminalizing selected drugs, they could justify federal troops and expenditures against regimes that were left-leaning. Colombia, Vietnam, Afghanistan come to mind. Second, they could masquerade as acting for the benefit of America’s susceptible children, which provided them innumerable votes from concerned parents. All this by simply criminalizing a list of specific drugs, which had no Washington lobbies.

Professional career politicians know how to manipulate voters, and the mass disinformation media never call them on it. Eliminating re-elections by single two-year terms would make economic democracy and truthful media possible.

Peter D. Moss

FAIRFAX

CORRECTIONS

•In last week’s “State of the Arts” section, we mistakenly printed the photo of the wrong stunt man. Todd Schneider was the guy on Tom Hanks’ right.

Also, artist Nancy Dwyer was mistakenly identified as an assistant professor at the University of Vermont. She is an associate professor. Sorry for the goofs.

•The photo in last week’s “Snack Attack 2” food story is not Maynard’s Snack Bar in Moretown; it’s Village Country Creemee in Waitsfield.

COUNCIL COMEBACK

The board of trustees from the Vermont Arts Council responds to Kevin Kelley’s article, “Wise Council?” published in the May 20 issue of Seven Days:

In 1965 the Vermont legislature approved Act 170, which directed state and federal funds to the Vermont Arts Council for the purpose of “increasing the opportunities for Vermont’s citizens and visitors to view, enjoy and participate” in the arts.

Over the past 45 years, we’ve held that founding principle as the basis for all we do. We have also followed the lead of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in articulating artistic excellence as the core criterion by which we assess applications for funds. At times it has been a challenge to respond nimbly to national and state trends that affect our operating environment. But throughout our history we have remained community-centered.

Until the 1980s, the Council’s appropriation from the NEA grew annually (it now represents about 45 percent of our budget) and we invested heavily in developing the capacity of Vermont’s cultural organizations. The Council offered sizeable operating funds to community arts organizations and healthy artist fellowship grants. Our primary focus was on facilitating organizations’ ability to present — and individuals’ ability to create — art.

The environment supporting an “art for art’s sake” philosophy began to erode during the Reagan era, and when funding from the NEA was slashed in the mid-1990s, the Council faced a new reality. With less money, how could the Council help organizations fulfill their missions; artists retain their creative vitality; and schools and community centers avoid cutbacks in arts education programs?

Our response — arrived at through careful planning and experimentation — was to invest in new collaborations around cultural heritage tourism, the creative economy, technology-based arts learning, and projects like “Palettes of Vermont” that encouraged public participation in creative activities.

Today the Council is supporting more arts activities than ever throughout Vermont. In the past five years we’ve given nearly 700 grants totaling $2.3 million for creation, presentation and arts education. Peer panelists review and recommend grant applications for funding based on criteria that, in virtually every case, state “high artistic quality” as the primary consideration for funding.

In terms of outreach, however, nothing we have done has been as successful as our community arts projects: 47,000 Vermonters participated in the 2006 “Palettes of Vermont” project and 60,000 are currently engaged in “Art Fits Vermont” (the puzzle project). We do not believe that encouraging Vermonters to participate in the arts at whatever level they are comfortable, and rewarding outstanding work, whether created by artists or presented by arts organizations, are mutually exclusive activities. They are not.

As trustees we are proud of the Council’s programs mentioned in the article. But we are also extremely proud of the many projects and services the Council provides which were not mentioned — from our grant workshops offered by our professional staff, to our cultural facilities collaboration and the “Art of Action.” This last is an innovative, public-private collaboration with Lyman Orton and has resulted in the largest commissioning project in the Council’s history. We were delighted that this project was so prominently featured in the February 4, 2009, issue of Seven Days.

Our recent listening tour provided great food for thought as we evaluate how best to serve Vermont’s creative community in the current environment. We are always open to new ideas: Drop by the Council’s office in Montpelier, send us an email, or give us a call with your thoughts. Even better, come to the Vermont Statehouse on Thursday, June 4, and join us at 4 p.m. for our Annual Meeting and Awards ceremony. We look forward to your participation.

Marie Houghton

MONTPELIER

Houghton is chair of the Trustees of the Vermont Arts Council.

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