Saturday, July 13, 2013


Most of the noise concerning the F35 issues is about NOISE -- and rightly so, as many Vermonters will be hurt, their lives and homes devalued and in some cases destroyed. 

But let's not forget another aspect, at the moment relatively noiseless, but in the long run, equally worthy of note: the military's push for the F-35 is intimately connected with Obama's plan to upgrade the US's nuclear strike capability. The current F-16 fleet is incapable of carrying and delivering the newly-designed "smart" nuclear bombs. The F-35 has been designed to do so. 

By supporting the development of the F-35, in Burlington or not, Vermonters are willy-nilly upholding the US's evasion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- to which it is a signatory -- which contains a pledge to slowly lower nuclear strike capacity to zero.

The anti-F-35 movement itself has bracketed this issue, in part because the local, clearly predictable effects will be so severe, but partly out of wariness about being seen as "unpatriotic". What I think is unpatriotic is to allow one's own country to be the linchpin and supplier of WMDs beyond any local nightmare. 

Let this remain an undertone at least in the current symphony of noise.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


The South Burlington and Winooski City Councils are to be commended for arranging public forums on the proposed F-35 basing.  The opportunity for public process and the Council’s willingness to listen to resident concerns and opinions on the basing is most welcome.

The Air Force recently released a revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement, relating to proposed basing. After reviewing the revised DEIS, and other relevant information, I want state my strong and complete opposition to the basing of the F-35 jets at the Burlington Air Guard base, because of the damaging impact it will have on our communities. The reasons for my opposition are as follows:
Reliability of the Data 

The revised DEIS includes estimates of housing and population impact based on 2010 Census data. The estimates are significantly higher than the figures presented in the initial Draft EIS. However, the estimates are still incorrect and significantly understate the number of housing units and people that are located in the high noise zone. Using the reliable data source of municipal assessments / tax parcel data, the properties have been identified by property owner, address and indicate the number of housing units affected is substantially greater than reported in the revised DIES. This irrefutable data indicates that the Revised DEIS understates the number of housing units, located within the 65 db DNL zone (Scenario 2), by 505 units and understates the population affected by approximately 900. The EIS must be revised to accurately reflect the impact of the high noise on our homes and residents.  


A huge land area, encompassing thousands of homes and families is located within the designated accident potential zone area. The DEIS states that the F-35's will have a significantly higher risk of crash, as compared with the F-16's.  The very recent crash of an F-16 in Arizona at Luke AFB illustrates the risk.  Fortunately, this crash was in a rural area and not a populated area, and there were no casualties. The high crash zone near the Burlington Air Guard space is the most densely populated region of our entire state.  In other communities, the Air Force has gone to court to prevent residential development from occurring in Accident Potential Zones. This same standard of safety should be applied in this case.


There is credible evidence that children are at much higher risk of negative health impacts due to high noise levels. The DEIS does not adequately address the impact on the health of children and should be amended to include recent studies, including the study completed by the World Health Organization. Over one thousand children will be impacted.

Several schools are located within the 65 db DNL zone and would be negatively impacted by high noise levels. The South Burlington and Winooski school boards both oppose the basing because of the negative impact on their hundreds of students. The DEIS did not even consider the presence of the recently developed Community College of Vermont, located in downtown Winooski. This multi million dollar facility, serving hundreds of students, would also be impacted by the high noise. 
Property Values 

There is an abundance of evidence confirming that airport noise has a detrimental / negative impact on property values. The DEIS only briefly examined this issue; on one hand, recognizing the impact on property values, but neglecting to quantity the impact. There are many academic studies, as well as local market evidence, that should be reviewed in order to assess the impact of the basing on property values. There are thousands of housing units in the proposed 65 db DNL zone. The loss of equity for these mostly modestly priced homes could be financially devastating for the owners. The potential loss in home values must be considered as a cost of this basing and examined more closely in the EIS. The analysis should identify the value of the residential property which is located within the high noise zone, and estimate the potential loss in value of this property, as well as the potential cost to mitigate the noise damages, if mitigation is possible. 

Municipal and State Tax Revenues

Related to potential property value loss, is the potential loss of municipal tax revenues. The DEIS did not address this issue.  The EIS should quantify the potential loss of state and municipal tax revenues as a significant impact of the proposed basing. 
Quality of Life  

Because of the high noise levels, the quality of life will be significantly diminished for over 8,000 residents, including many disadvantaged families, elderly residents and children. The repeated exposure to excessive jet noise, up to 28 times a day, will greatly diminish the quality of living for these communities.


If the F-35's are based in Vermont, the 65 db DNL noise zone in Winooski will be expanded to include nearly 80% of all housing units in the City.  Large sections of South Burlington, Burlington and Williston are also impacted.  Aside from the very real negative impacts of high noise on property values, health and quality of life, the high noise levels will also bring the collateral Federal label to our communities and homes as being “incompatible with residential use” and “incompatible with educational use”. The FAA and Department of Defense both have policies which explicitly define this.  I believe that this will stigmatize these communities and homes through the perception that they are a less attractive and safe place to live. The affected neighborhoods and communities will be burdened by the negative reputation imposed by this Federal “label”.  Who would want to live in a community or home which has been labeled as “incompatible with residential use”?  Who would want to send their children to school in a community which carries this label?

Available Alternatives

As the DEIS informs us, there are several potential sites that are better suited to the F-35 basing. I fear that the decision is being controlled by politics.  I understand that “mission” is a controlling element in the basing decision and I am afraid that this somewhat vague term will be used to make Burlington the top choice, despite it being the worst choice from an environmental standpoint. If the Air Force and Air Guard are serious about transparency, there should be an investigation in the selection process, specifically focusing on the glaring “mistakes” in the application, which led to Burlington being erroneously selected as the preliminary top choice for the basing.

Support for Guard 

The Air National Guard has a commendable record of service to our country and state. As a community, we can support the Air Guard without supporting the F-35's. The DEIS indicates that only a small number of jobs will result from the basing, even under the most expansive plan. Air Guard leadership has publicly stated that it is unlikely that the base would ever close, while recognizing that the mission could change. The host of economic benefits associated with the ANG will continue, even if the mission is changed.  Most importantly, the marginal benefits of the F-35 basing should be weighed against the costs. For the affected communities, the costs are enormous and the benefits are minimal.

Steve Allen
87 East Spring Street

Winooski, VT  

Monday, June 10, 2013


A common assertion among proponents of basing an F-35 squadron at our Burlington airport is that noise from military aircraft is perceived as "the sound of freedom." This seems odd.
Freedom is complex. But for simplicity, let's examine a most American summary -- that of FDR's "four freedoms", a proposal for four fundamental feedoms everyone should enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
What do our military aircraft, noise aside, have to do with providing them?
Do these planes provide freedom of speech? No, the First Amendment gives us that.
Freedom of worship? Again, no. Again, the Constitution.
Freedom from want? Here, certainly not, and rather the opposite, as the enormous sums to develop, build, and support them drain the treasury for domestic needs.
Ah, fear. Surely they make us less afraid of "the enemy" -- whoever that might be. But what enemy has the air or missile capability to attack us? None on the horizon. And our overseas attacks to pre-empt any capability seem to be creating more, not fewer, enemies, enemies whose tools are not targets such aircraft. Our fear, if anything, should be increased.
To me, freedom comes not from our warplanes, but from collaboration with nature and humans trying to be healed.

Tell it to the Russians, the Iranians, the Chinese, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban? They too don't hear the roar in the air as the sound of freedom. Nor the buzzing.

Friday, March 29, 2013


“There is something repulsive about it.”

This was the composer’s comment about his Fifth Symphony after returning from a European tour conducting it.

True, Tchaikovsky was often neurotic about his compositions, announcing his joy with them to his brother, Modest, then doubting them — and himself — after performances. Schizy. He could fly like a swan, but once on the ground, he would waddle.

Waddling is one thing, but what is “repulsive” about the Fifth? Some clues present themselves.

In a notebook page dated 13 April 1888, the year of its composition, Tchaikovsky outlines a scenario for the first movement: “Introduction: Complete resignation before Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrutable predestination of Providence. Allegro: (1) Murmurs of doubt, complaints, reproaches against XXX. (2) Shall I throw myself in the embrace of faith??? A wonderful program, if only it can be carried out.”

A hopeful beginning. In opening the work, Tchaikovsky cuts to the core. The opening theme in the low clarinets recurs in every movement, commenting on other themes, or challenging them.

Thus, the opening theme carries a narrative function beyond its musical one, and it doesn’t take much imagination to hear it as embodying the Fate Tchaikovsky invokes in his primordial program. So let’s call it the “Fate theme”, and see how it functions throughout the piece.

Tchaikovsky always wore his heart on his compositional sleeve: the sublime slow movement is the expressive core of the whole work. The opening string chorale before the famous horn solo warns the audience to take this movement seriously, even religiously.

Halfway through this erotic movement, the orchestra begins a stringendo and crescendo culminating in fortississimo (fff) trumpets blaring out the Fate theme. It’s worse than hearing the steps of your parents entering the room when you are making out with your lover, or a cuckolded spouse returning home early. There’s only one possible effect of this interruption: to scare the hell out of the audience, and make it regret its emotional vulnerability. “Oh no you don’t. You’ll be sorry.” The avenging angel bares his sword.

If that’s the way the Fate theme can function, what is the meaning of its triumphant takeover of the last movement? Critics have always found this the least successful. Is it because it’s overwrought and only barely convincing? Protesting too much, and as such, repulsive?

I think there is little mystery what the XXX refers to in Tchaikovsky’s note to Modest. Throughout their extensive correspondence, both closeted gay men dealt in code with their “sickness”. X, it was called, or sometimes Z, in unmistakable contexts.  But in this case, there is more to it than that. What was going on for Tchaikovsky at this time?

It had been three years since Tchaikovsky had produced a major orchestral work — his Manfred Symphony. Manfred, a strange, programmatic inclusion in the series of numbered symphonies. Why Manfred?

Manfred is the subject of a dramatic poem by Byron, the story of a Swiss nobleman tortured by mysterious guilt. “Thou lovedst me/Too much,” he declares concerning his sister, “as I loved thee: we were not made/To torture thus each other, though it were/The deadliest sin to love as we have loved.”
Tchaikovsky was sympathetic to Byron’s love for his half-sister, and this for him brought up the dangerous theme of incest. At the time of writing Manfred, Tchaikovsky was already deeply in love with his nephew, Bob, his sister’s son, then 15, Tchaikovsky’s favorite age for sex with boys.  The composer dedicated his Sixth Symphony to him, and awarded him the lion’s share of his will.

Problematical family dynamics. XXX indeed, and a perfect vehicle for Tchaikovsky’s brooding about his sexuality. The noble outsider, rejected by a conventional world. He later disowned the piece, calling it “abominable…I loathe it deeply.” Sound familiar? Repulsive?

And what followed the Fifth? His fantasy overture, Hamlet, overlapping the scoring of the Fifth, and beginning again with a “Fate” theme. Over the first page, Tchaikovsky had written. “To be or not to be?” The Fifth — sandwiched between Manfred and Hamlet.

Within five years, Tchaikovsky was dead, probably by his own hand or tongue, possibly of arsenic, possibly of cholera, nine days after premiering his death-haunted Sixth Symphony, his Requiem.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


A recent Rasmussen poll found that 70% of Americans “Still Agree with Declaration of Independence.” If that is the case, it may be that they haven’t recently read beneath the fold to the fine print.

There, among others, we find as reasons for revolution a government’s

— refusing Assent to Laws,
— refusing to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people,
— invading the rights of the people,
— obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither,
— obstructing the Administration of Justice,
— keeping among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
— affecting to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power,
— subjecting us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,
— quartering large bodies of armed troops among us,
— protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit,
— imposing Taxes on us without our Consent,
— cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world,
— depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury,
— transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences,
— taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments,
— transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.

Because “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury,” the writers and signers of the Declaration conclude that the government is "unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

In their case, they did something about it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012



In his penultimate novella, “Worstward Ho” (1983), Samuel Beckett writes

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

It’s Beckett-ambiguous whether “Fail better” suggests an improvement or a worsening of conditions. What is absolutely clear, though is that the performance of the United States at the recent Rio +20 conference was intended as an energetic worsening thrust.

There has been general agreement that the final ratified agreement was a weak-kneed, weak tea failure, dashing the shrinking hopes of the last twenty years of conferences, and doing little to avert the multiple ecocatastrophes upon us.

The process started with a draft declaration, self-censored, of course, so as to be “realistic”.  Then the US delegation took out its red pencil.

The word “equitable” was deleted from the initial text, as was any mention of the “right” to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality or women’s empowerment. Any clear, enforcable target of preventing two degrees of global warming had to go, any commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” along with it, any notion of “decoupling” economic growth from the use of natural resources.

Beyond that, many of the foundations of the original 1992 Rio document had to be erased, including all mentiion of the core principle of that Earth summit — common, but differentiated responsibilities for repair. The original implication was that those who had done the most damage, should take on the greatest burden. Out. No rich country payment without poor country payments too. Liberty for us, our version of equality, and certainly no fraternity.

Could we fail worse than that? Sure. By articulating a positive “green” rationale for corporate greed. We now hear that commodification,  putting a “fair value”, a price on nature — clean air, clean water — is not only a way of making money, but also a way of saving it. In capitalism, if something has no price, it has no value. Grabbing, owning and selling natural resources will help preserve biodiversity, slow climate change, and reduce the pressure for extraction. Capitalism can “save nature”.

A most excellent plan for Fail worse.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Nonchalantly pepper-spraying sitting students, or charging with batons swinging into non-violent crowds, or middle-of-the-night attacks with gas canisters flying in the streetlights' glare don’t seem to be increasing the popularity of protectors and servers throughout the land.

Some mayors and police chiefs, like our own in Burlington, VT, understand that they can expect to clear Occupy sites with three much more subtle, non-YouTubeable, plausibly deniable techniques, one transient, two permanent.

The first is simply to wait for winter, a time when most outdoor beasts, warm-blooded and cold-, migrate or hibernate, or somehow dig in, and abandon their normal playing fields. Landscapes of all kinds thin out naturally until the burgeoning of spring. In Vermont, that’s at least four months with very unlikely encampment. Things may be different in Florida.

But the second and third tactics are not so iffy, so geographically determined. They are easy, and cheap:

2. Provide no portapotties. This has been a longstanding tactic. Permits have long been granted for potentially large, one-day demonstrations, extra police are hired, traffic plans are made, barriers and watchtowers are imported, Free Speech Zones demarcated (!), etc. And in spite of all this planning and expense, guess what is absent?

And then consider the decision-making process of potential demonstrators with prostate problems, menstrual issues, nervous bladders, bowel disorders, of any who may not be able to hold it -- whatever "it" is -- for more than a few hours. Discourages going to the demo, doesn't it? Cuts down on the numbers. And with no propaganda, no expense. It also puts pressure on local businesses to guard their facilities, and detest the 99%. A twofer. Here, there are possible technical solutions used by pillheads and astronauts.

3. But the best, and most effective approach of all, potentially lethal to every Occupy site, and for the authorities, killing three big birds with one stone, is simply to rely on the openness, kindness, and communitarian ideologies common to the Occupiers. In Burlington, it was the suicide of a homeless man at the encampment which was the gamechanger, and brought down all the tents.

In larger cities, with far larger homeless populations, the situation is far more difficult, and is counted on as such by authorities. The homeless rightfully seek out non-judgemental soup kitchens, and communities in which they are not likely to be awakened in the middle of the night by nightsticks or racist gangs. And if they pay attention at all to the rhetoric of those around them, they know that they are not only part of the 99%, but perhaps the poster children of same. They belong there. They recognize communities that strive to make them welcome without proselytizing or judgement, that try to cross socio-economic boundaries and learn from their hard experience of life ever more common in America. The homeless wind up in Occupy sites, and they should, and they always will -- for good reason.

Not to mention that Occupy often moves into places and parks that belonged to the homeless in the first place, until they became "contested public spaces." The street people who spent their days in Burlington's City Hall Park during the hours homeless shelters are closed were quite literally overrun by the marchers that "claimed" the park. The occupation began more like the occupation of Palestine than of Burlington. But with much work, caring, and growth of tolerance, the problems were largely overcome, and the occupiers cohabited with the homeless behind our City Hall. They allowed us to occupy their space. Then came the suicide.

The fact is, and for obvious reasons, the homeless bring many problems with them that become a great burden to any intentional participatory community. There have been a lot of words about everyone being able to have their say during the remarkable people's mic, about rules being formed democratically, etc.  But the fact is that some people are just not into announcing a mic check, and laying out their ideas in short, repeatable phrases. Some people are not into obeying rules at all, whatever they are, whoever made them. Some people are habitually drunk, or drugged, and wildly disinhibited around sexual behavior.

These are the people, and this the sociology, that sophisticated police departments count on to do their work for them, invisibly creating stressors in Occupy situations, and picking up the tab for feeding, housing, and caring for the city's poorest. A threefer this time, a win-win for law 'n order: break up the encampments, save money on tear-gas and overtime, and until that is achieved, relieve the strain on food shelves and homeless shelters. There were reports of police picking up drunks in other parts of the city, and chauffering them down to Zucotti Park in the days before Kristallnacht.

The switch from blameworthy military attack to invisible counter-insurgency is a smart one for cities and towns strapped for budget. "Let the buggers eat each other up" has always been the rationale for divide and conquer. Oh, and don't give them any place to pee.