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Letters to the Editor (12/30/20)

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Wonders of Westford

Thanks so much for spotlighting Bree Drapa and the Westford Public Library ["Bright Lights," December 16]. You captured her, the library, the town office and the town green perfectly.

She is a rock star, but here's the thing: So many people in Westford are rock stars. There's the guy who grooms the cross-country ski trails behind the school every winter. There's the woman who runs the cold-weather coat and hat drive, and the people who get up ridiculously early some Saturdays to run the food shelf, and the guy who organizes the summer concert series, and the parents who put in hours of time to help the eighth grade pull off its annual Halloween Haunted Forest and Spring Spaghetti Dinner (in non-pandemic times, anyway), and the families who started the annual East-West Flag Football Challenge every October, and so much more.

They're all amazing, and it makes me so happy to live in this town. Every summer when I'm sitting on the green listening to music and watching kids play and neighbors talk to each other, I think: Norman Rockwell is from bygone times, but those times still exist in Westford.

Not to mention we are the home of that giant wooden middle finger and the giant boat lawn ornament that's painted like a shark. I mean, what else could you ask for, really?

Nancy Volkers

Westford

'No-Brainer' for UVM

[Re Off Message: "UVM Announces Plan to Eliminate More Than Two Dozen Academic Programs," December 2]: This is absurd: a university without a religion or classics program? I would not have stayed at the University of Vermont without the courses I took in the classics department, nor would I have graduated if I hadn't discovered professors Brian Walsh and Jacques Bailly.

It's hilarious to think the university has used Bailly's spelling bee connections and fame as some sort of advertisement for the school, and now it pulls this. I think the obvious has already been said, but I'll say it again here: When making decisions, the school needs to be transparent and seek input from faculty, staff and students and actually consider alternative proposals. 

Pay the administration less, and stop giving them higher salaries than educators. Develop underdeveloped programs. Sell the president's house and cover the deficit costs with that. Stop building. I think there has been a $50,000 salary increase for the president since 2013. Why? Universities are academic, not athletic, institutions. Cut funding of nonacademic programs first. Yeesh, I feel like that's a no-brainer.

Max Levine

Brooklyn, NY

The Heat Is On

I was thrilled to see your article about discovering and falling in love with a masonry heater [Nest: "Feeling the Heat," December 16]! I, too, have been an owner for eight years, and it is one of the best decisions I've ever made. Still cannot explain why they are not more commonly seen in New England.

Unfortunately, I have to take issue with your description of a masonry heater as a "radiator" and a woodstove as a "convector." Both masonry heaters and woodstoves transfer heat to their surroundings primarily via radiation. (There are woodstoves that emphasize convection, but they aren't that common.)

The difference is that a masonry heater radiates to a much smaller and more comfortable degree because the outer surface doesn't get as hot. I like to think of it as a big battery, and we charge this big thermal mass that absorbs the heat and emits it more slowly. Our house is almost always a perfect 67 to 70 degrees — no huge temperature swings — and, to me, that's the best thing about it. I recognize that Ken Matesz also describes heaters this way, too, and otherwise his book is excellent and always on our coffee table for curious guests who want to learn more.

Thanks for pointing the spotlight on an underused and underappreciated form of wood heat!

Kevin Stevenson

Morrisville

'Intelligent Defense'

[Re "Essential Soldiers," December 9]: I found it strange that National Guardsmen are described as "champing at the bit" when something isn't going wrong and there's no one to help — that their hope is that they won't have been "trained in vain." Sounds a bit backward! And also brings to mind the image of rabid war dogs held back in restraint by their masters, hoping for the worst so they can be needed — a degrading description at best.

I seriously wonder how Col. Chris Evans can get "discouraged" when nothing is going wrong? How does that work, exactly? Isn't the hope to not need to defend? And if the National Guard is also so in need of people, then why wasn't it sensible for the F-35 flights to at least be halted during the pandemic, freeing up the 1,000 airmen and also reducing the impact of chemical by-product by the aircraft, projected to be a 127 to 205 percent increase in sulfur oxides that irritate respiration and produce acid rain? Our current political climate calls for intelligent defense that cares equally about social and environmental impact, even when defense is not needed. 

Joy Yonan-Renold

Winooski

Mayor Has Failed

[Re Off Message: "At Caucus, Burlington Democrats Offer Counter to Progressives' 'Extreme Ideologies,'" December 6]: The mayor launched his reelection campaign by railing against city Progressives for their "rigid" ideology.

With that line of attack, the mayor scored a goal — against himself.

No politician has been more rigidly ideological than this mayor: An ideology of obsequious servility to fellow real estate developers, a trickle-down economic development policy, and utter silence around growing economic inequality and thousands of affordable houses made uninhabitable by the blasting noise of F-35s. No matter how awful and no matter at what gigantic cost to the city, nobody has been more "dangerously devoted to ideology" than this mayor.

Think of the losses from the hole-in-the-ground CityPlace; privatized Burlington Telecom; the deservedly voter-defeated attempt to privatize downtown; the not-so-Great Streets; $6 million to pave and shear character and shade from City Hall Park; the unsafe, racially insensitive, ecologically disastrous Champlain Parkway; and 200 demolished affordable homes by the airport. All schemes to enrich fellow developers. 

A mayor with so many failures that he must resort to an attack-based campaign. But this particular attack unintentionally calls attention to his own "rigid ideology": to prioritize the interests of people like Don Sinex and other large-scale developers over the public good. 

Railing repeatedly on the word "ideology," the mayor may be seeking to awaken fear by evoking the specter of Karl Marx. But a different 19th-century figure declared the American progressive ideology most clearly: "government of, by, and for the people." An ideology 99 percent of us can support.

James Marc Leas

South Burlington

Forests First

[Re Nest: "Sustainable by Design," December 16]: Protecting our forests from fragmentation requires stronger action than "avoid, minimize or mitigate." This is the least protective standard used in Act 250's criteria. A stronger standard is to avoid adverse effects, period.

Most of the criteria in Act 250 require avoiding adverse effects. Act 250 allows mitigation in only four situations: historic buildings, sport shooting ranges, primary agricultural soils and impacts on transportation systems.

The standard of "avoid, minimize or mitigate" (H.926, which Gov. Phil Scott fortunately vetoed) allows, even encourages, adverse effects to happen. That's what "mitigate" does. It allows one to create an adverse effect while easing one's conscience about the adverse effect by doing this ambiguous thing called mitigation. In other contexts, mitigation has been shown to be ineffective.

The forest fragmentation and sprawl that are occurring now are the results of activities that do not need an Act 250 permit: scattered housing, one or two at a time, in forests or outside already developed areas; and clearing for energy such as solar, wind and wood. The bill that Scott vetoed would not have required permits for that activity, either.

If one truly wants to reduce forest fragmentation, one needs to support an Act 250 that allows no adverse effects and no mitigation, and that requires an Act 250 permit for the scattered housing and energy projects, and for the subdivision that allows them. That's what our forests need to reduce fragmentation.

Thomas Weiss

Montpelier

Old-Time Religion Department

[Re Off Message: "UVM Announces Plan to Eliminate More Than Two Dozen Academic Programs," December 2]: I graduated from the University of Vermont more than a decade ago as a religion major, and many of my fondest memories are of debates and discussions at 481 Main Street. 

In a recent petition, a student laments the impending demise of the department, suggesting that its emphasis on social justice is a strength of the department. As an alum who went on to receive a doctorate from the University of Oxford in the use of cognitive science to study religion, I feel that UVM's administration is making a necessary and difficult choice, and the religion department's emphasis on social justice over science may hinder the department's ability to demonstrate its relevance to the modern world. 

Religion is incredibly relevant to the world today, but we need a cross-cultural approach to what makes us human, not a perpetuation of ideologies rooted in interpretive paradigms and unfalsifiable but fashionable nonsense, which are not usefully generalizable to the modern world. 

Students simply aren't learning anything useful in departments focusing on interpretation rather than explanation and "problematizing" over answers. Such ideological argumentation doesn't bring value in the world outside of academia. 

As an alum, I'm saddened by this situation, but I'm more saddened to have seen this ideological trend develop in many departments over the past decade. I can't sign the petition to save the department without some promise to reintroduce an emphasis on science of religion.

Justin Lane

Bratislava, Slovakia

About CityPlace...

[Re "Solid Foundation?" November 4]: Three concerns about CityPlace Burlington:

1. Is Don Sinex the only one responsible for deciding what is built? There doesn't seem to be an alternative plan to what he is proposing. Is anyone else in Burlington working on a plan? It seems there is agreement on building housing, but is Sinex's plan the one? Is his the right number of units?

2. Why does the city want to build a road through the site? Adding traffic to CityPlace is a bad idea. If CityPlace were limited to pedestrians like Church Street, it could be an amazing destination for tourists and a home for residents! A road will just divide the property in half, cost a lot of money and take away value from the site.

3. When I see Sinex's new housing plans, I think: Where are the new residents going to get food and groceries? One idea is to have a co-op annex convenience store at CityPlace, plus a Burlington-scale Faneuil Hall with food vendors and indoor-outdoor spaces. 

Steph Holdridge

Burlington

A Thermos in Hand...

While devouring my Seven Days — my prime link to Vermont and the outside world — I was informed of so many things to take strong note of: The nuns at St. Joseph's Orphanage did not murder children [Off Message: "Orphanage Task Force Finds Credible Evidence of Abuse — but Not Murder," December 14]; Burlington City Hall knew of chief Brandon del Pozo's fake media account ["Weinberger Knew of Burlington Police Chief's Anonymous Twitter Account," December 15], and Zoom productions are a new future of theater ["Zooming In," December 16].

Then there was Jenny Blair's letter about the horrors of not being able to get drinking water and coffee at Vermont rest stops [Feedback: "No Rest — or Coffee!" December 16]. I was moved to tears — seriously. With the staggering food insecurities in Vermont — and the nation — and the livelihoods of so many businesses on the line, I was taken aback. Maybe it's because I lived in California for more than 40 years. You learn to travel with food, water and, yes, coffee at all times — think floods, earthquakes, forest fires.

I will be starting a GoFundMe page to buy a thermos and water bottle set for Blair. I am only sorry it is too late for Christmas. On to a healthier and happier 2021 — and provisions once again at the rest stops.

Sean Moran

Shelburne

Get a Thermos

[Re Feedback: "No Rest — or Coffee!" December 16]: Jenny, have you ever heard of a thermos?

James Hudson

Glover