A Right Between Two Wrongs

By William F. Zachmann, for the Duxbury Clipper

Both Board of Selectman Chairman Shawn Dahlen and Selectman Chris Donato could have done better than they did in last week’s dustup between the two of them at the end the BOS meeting on Monday, January 9, 2011. Neither set an ideal example for how best to conduct the business of the Duxbury Board of Selectmen: Donato by the unnecessarily confrontational manner in which he tried to raise some issues and Dahlen by hiding behind the Open Meeting Law and executive sessions to prevent public discussion of matters that he does not want the public to know about. The result was not just a lamentable lack of civility in the conduct of the meeting, but an equally if not even more lamentable lack of transparency in Duxbury’s Town Government.

Regardless of whether Donato’s view that something is wrong with the handling of the North Hill Golf Course contract, litigation related to it, and apparently (and possibly unnecessarily) large sums of taxpayer’s money paid to Attorney Robert Troy is justified or not, both Donato’s strident manner and Dahlen’s stonewalling of open, public discussion of the issues are wrong.

Donato should express his concerns in a more civil and more effective manner. Dahlen should recognize that Duxbury’s citizens and taxpayers have a right to know how and why their money is spent and stop hiding behind legal technicalities to keep the facts from the eyes of the public.

If Donato is simply dead wrong; if everything has been handled properly, if Attorney Troy has worked hard, effectively, and rightfully earned every penny of Duxbury taxpayer’s money paid to him over the years, then full and complete disclosure of the facts will show that. Assuming that is so, Dahlen should welcome Donato’s requests that the facts be laid before the public, not try to limit them to a privileged circle of Town Hall insiders.

On the other hand, if there is substance to Donato’s complaints, his blunderbuss approach undermines his effectiveness by turning off people who just do not like his confrontational style. If Donato is right, and something is wrong, Duxbury’s citizens certainly have a right to know. But just rocking the boat is not the ideal way to get to one’s destination.

Dahlen’s stonewalling is not sufficient reason to assume that Donato’s concerns are valid. But it surely is a continuation of a long standing practice of Duxbury’s political in crowd to avoid public disclosure and discussion of many matters that should, in fact, be publicly known. Duxbury’s citizens and taxpayers have a right to full and complete transparency of how their Town is governed and free and complete access to the details of how (and why) their money is spent. They should be able to “follow the money” to see who benefits from it –and to make sure that Duxbury always does.

Over the past two decades, before Dahlen was elected to the Board of Selectmen, Duxbury’s Town Government was generally moving in the direction of greater transparency. Dahlen’s apparent inclination to reverse that trend should worry Duxbury’s citizens as much Donato’s personal style does.

Surviving 2012

By William F. Zachmann for the Duxbury Clipper

Even with the worst economy in the United States since the 1930s, the potential collapse the Euro, Iran about to go nuclear, and a Republican presidential candidate selection process that looks more like a reality TV show than American democracy in action, surviving 2012 would be the normal default assumption for anyone in a generally comfortably affluent town like Duxbury. Thanks, however, to a sensationally clever, albeit not particularly accurate, interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar in a show on the Discovery Channel, the end of the 13th b’ak’tun at the winter solstice on December 21, 2012 has made immanent eschatological speculation even more popular than the infamous “millennium bug” was pre-2000.

Despite the near certainty that an overwhelming majority of Duxbury’s residents will be alive to celebrate the start of 2013, however, there is a resonant vibe in the contemporary Zeitgeist attuned to apocalyptic or at least distinctly dystopian expectations. One of the most interesting clues to the depth of this phenomenon is the extraordinary popularity among teen age and young adult women of writer Susan Collins’ “The Hunger Games Trilogy” published by Scholastic Press, self-described as “the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a leader in educational technology and related services and children’s media”.

Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic remnant of what is currently known as the United States of America, the Hunger Games books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Prim, in the 74th Hunger Games of the nation of Panem (“in the ruins of a place once known as North America”). Instituted after a revolt by the 13 districts of Panem against “the Capitol”, the Hunger Games are both a punishment and a mechanism of control.

Each year in a “Reaping” ceremony held in each of the 12 remaining districts (the 13th having apparently been destroyed by the Capitol in suppressing the uprising) one boy and one girl are selected by lot as “Tributes” to the Capitol. The 24 Tributes must then fight each other to the death in an arena until only one survives. The entire proceeding is staged and broadcast throughout Panem as a sort of ultimate reality TV show. The sole survivor get special privileges for life and his or her “District” gets something more than the bare subsistence food rations normally allocated to the Districts for the following year.

That young people, young women in particular, in generally affluent and prosperous communities like Duxbury, who grew up with Harry Potter, quickly moved through Gossip Girl and on to vampire stories should now be so fascinated by the Hunger Games reflects something significant about our world, something that older adults do not yet seem fully to recognize: Today’s young people have grown up in a world radically different from that of their “baby boom” grandparents and their Generation X, Y, Z and millennial parents as well. For them, the world of 20th Century secure and safe American prosperity has already ended.

The 2012 graduates of Duxbury High School, most of whom will be members of some college class of 2016, were seven or eight years old when the World Trade Towers fell. They have grown up in world of America at war more than any time since the 1960s and more existentially threatened than any time since the 1950s,when school children were required to duck under their desks in “nuclear attack drills” and issued dog tags to identify their bodies after the atom bombs fell. Young people today face an uncertain economy and an uncertain future. Small wonder, then, that the cycle running out on the Mayan calendar should become such a cultural icon for the year ahead! No doubt, too, “The Hunger Games” film will be a big cultural event and a smash success when it is released on March 23, 2012. That is one 2012 prediction you can put in the bank!