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Letters to the Editor (5/27/20)


Published May 27, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated July 7, 2020 at 2:16 p.m.

Pandemic History Lesson

In "Flu Seasoned" [May 13], Chelsea Edgar noted, "One of the idiosyncrasies of the 1918 pandemic, still not fully understood by epidemiologists, was its deadly impact on young adults." Many researchers have looked into this and have found that the use of aspirin to treat the flu greatly contributed to the large number of deaths. Yes, aspirin. Today aspirin bottles warn against its use to treat fever, because it can actually raise the fever and flood the lungs with fluid. In fact, countless people continued to be killed by this aspirin treatment until the 1980s, when the link was finally understood.

During the Spanish flu epidemic, aspirin sales doubled. Physicians doused their patients in it, trying to stop the fever, not realizing it was making matters worse. The British Ministry of Health, the U.S. Navy, the Journal of the American Medical Association and even the medicine bottles themselves all recommended what today are considered to be toxic doses.

There are many great resources on this topic, but there's a concise compilation in Karen M. Starko's paper "Salicylates and Pandemic Influenza Mortality, 1918-1919 Pharmacology, Pathology, and Historic Evidence."

How many people died of the aspirin, not the Spanish flu? Since the symptoms are the same, we will never know for sure. However, we can learn from history. It's a great example of how, in our rush to address a health crisis, we can actually cause a catastrophe.

Amy Page


Student Bodies

I appreciate Colin Flanders' May 13 article titled "Herd Community: Burlingtonians Worry About the Return of College Students," which shows the balance our leaders are attempting to strike between wants and needs.

One thing that was concerning was the focus on University of Vermont undergraduates, when the reality of the potential impact is the collective number of students from Champlain College, Saint Michael's College and UVM, which may be closer to double that number.

When you consider the larger collective number of students descending on the Burlington area together with the recently documented "super-spreader" events and the serious inflammatory condition in children, Mayor Miro Weinberger's less than rigorous approach isn't very reassuring.

Michael Webster


Why Fly?

[Re Last 7: "Three F-35s from Vermont flew over western New York State last week to honor health care workers," May 20]: Question: Why do we Americans militarize everything we possibly can? Indeed, especially during our present crises, health care workers, EMS personnel and first responders should be honored. But by the military?

Recently, I had a medical appointment at Rutland Regional Medical Center. I discovered, outside annexed to the building, a resplendent, serene area specifically designed for meditation. As I sat giving merit to the hospital professional with whom I just met, I began reflecting upon the aforementioned Seven Days item and thought that there were alternative humanitarian ways than through the military to honor these practitioners.

We can ensure that they are well compensated, that their training and college expenses be paid for by our tax dollars. Furthermore, why not honor these heroes by dedicating state and public buildings in their name instead of the many dubious figures we tend to celebrate? In fact, Interstate 287 in northern New Jersey is dedicated to the Peace Corps — a rare example. And we can continue what many of us are doing: publicly thanking health care workers with lawn signs and accolades through the media.

Yes, let's show our gratitude and appreciation to these heroes and their commitment to safeguarding our health and safety, but let's not, again, militarize this recognition.

Russ Layne


Everyone Loves to Disagree

[Re Off Message: "Burlington Council Passes Mask Mandate, Orders Controversial Mural Removed," May 19]: Burlington, you failed poorly on voting to remove and condemn the "Everyone Loves a Parade!" mural!

It is both alarming and pathetic that members of the city council have now snuffed out art for what it is — a freedom of expression for interpretation!

This removal in the name of racism and the oblivious rant of "white privilege" is really a loss in personal freedom of choice.

Would they have us cover or take down statues of Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and other prominent founders of Vermont?

What books would they liked burned? Huckleberry Finn? Move on to the Bill of Rights?

Flaws and failures in humanity should be viewed to create change, not to extinguish and annihilate for the expediency of what we only see today.

Rather than remove the mural, expand it to highlight all races and cultural advancements in Vermont and highlight with pride the many positive impacts gained with the more ethnic diversity we now have in our community!

Robert Devost


Hardy Defense

[Re Off Message: "Burlington Council Passes Mask Mandate, Orders Controversial Mural Removed," May 19]: It is an absolute tragedy that the "Everyone Loves a Parade!" mural has become a political football for vote-seeking politicians. They claim to see in the mural what a small, vocal group of their constituents wants them to see: racism, sexism, eugenics, black erasure and the cause of their pain. 

The troubled race relations in this city have been neglected for decades. The artist, Pierre Hardy, got it right; his mural has become the sacrificial lamb for the failure of others. The council's vote to remove it is immoral.  

Even while Burlington residents are facing tax increases, a $10 million revenue loss, budget cuts and possibly employee furloughs, only now — with eyes on the next election — Mayor Miro Weinberger created a self-serving new position: the director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging. Then he hired Tyeastia Green for the job. Although she has been in Burlington since March, and recently claimed to have never seen the mural, Green called it "a symbol of racism ... as offensive as the swastika" in a Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront meeting on May 15. In a subsequent email exchange with me, she wrote, "The mural is a done deal. It will not be reversed, and it is coming down. I ... cannot agree with the white community defining what is, and what is not racist especially since whites have not experienced racism." 

That refrain — "I will allow you, white person, your opinion only if it supports mine" — is wearing thin.  

If that free-speech-defending, art-loving, justice-seeking lawyer is out there — the mural needs you.  

Marianne Ward


Legal Argument for Mural

[Re Off Message: "Burlington Council Passes Mask Mandate, Orders Controversial Mural Removed," May 19]: On May 18, 11 members of the Burlington City Council passed a resolution to remove or cover the "Everyone Love a Parade!" mural by August 29, 2020. Here are four relevant First Amendment principles for judging this resolution. 

1. In his decision whether to endorse this resolution, Mayor Miro Weinberger is obligated to follow the First Amendment.

2. Federal courts would not be sympathetic to his trying to trump this obligation by appealing to state, city or federal anti-discrimination law, and certainly not to vague opinions about diversity.  

3. The main First Amendment reason for not moving or covering the mural is that it represents a viewpoint, and a long line of First Amendment decisions make clear that state officials must be neutral in regard to viewpoints. In 1992 the Supreme Court struck down speech codes because they violated this principle. It would be difficult for the mayor to argue that the resolution does not aim to censor a viewpoint in light of the fact that both members of the city council and the Mural Task Force were explicit about stating their hatred of the viewpoint of the mural.

4. Finally, Mayor Weinberger would have a very difficult time indeed in arguing that his getting rid of or covering the mural would not chill other speech and other art projects. Animus against such chilling of speech is a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that Mayor Weinberger would be obligated to follow.

Norman Arthur Fischer