, Newburyport, MA

October 31, 2013

What scares me most

As I See It
John Burciaga

---- — Halloween is upon us — our tip of the hat to mortal fears (though a mere shadow of the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is a serious matter), and turning the end of October into silly witch costumes and another chance to get drunk and score.

Herman Hesse said we live in the realm of the uninsurable, which may account for those who always check behind shower curtains even in homes of friends — more typical of women ages 21-34 and men 45-54. Guys, what are we afraid of at that age?

People superstitiously put socks on one particular foot first and never deviate from that order; something terrible might happen. And there is more than one way to eat corn on the cob, but whichever way is done, the selfsame person can’t do it the other way; the world might come to an end.

May my fears be more substantive. They are certainly more local. But what scares me seems not to trouble the rest of us. With a mayoral election around the corner, absent from voter rhetoric is any concern for what has happened to our schools in the few short years I have lived here: a refusal to allow pupils to hear Obama’s address on education that was directed to the nation’s students; police powers used to lockdown our high school in a silly, futile Keystone Kops search for drugs; and a thinly veiled collusion between the mayor and assistant superintendent in a power play to get rid of a good superintendent.

It also doesn’t scare voters, apparently, that the School Committee, save for a lonely prophetic voice or two, has sat on its blessed assurance and let these things happen. Whoever thinks that there’s no bad blood between the mayor and that bunch is sleeping very soundly or paying no attention whatever. If you don’t watch the proceedings on local cable, please at least read between the lines.

And don’t get me started about the Brown School playground — the infamous Dissembling in the Dead of Night. When that evil deed was done and time came to name the new school, it would have been nice to have it share moniker with the laudable Mr. Brown, but that would have taken equal parts decency and courage, and have had a healing effect, but the mayor wouldn’t stand tall for that.

All the foregoing is but part of what has dropped our local schools’ ranking in the commonwealth. But who’s talking about that?

It’s not a little scary too that the curse of the landfill still hangs in the air, along with its odor — an indication that the former mayor was not the problem after all. And the stink will finally leave someday, but like the plagues of the Middle Ages that finally just ran their courses.

Then there’s so much blah-blah about how much money has come into Newburyport in recent years, oblivious to the equally huge sums that have flowed into Amesbury, Salisbury and beyond: stimulus gold has been everywhere under Obama and all you have to do is have your hand out. So let’s stop acting like one person is responsible for the local largesse.

Scarily, there is no courage at all regarding the waterfront. The NRA has a good plan but no candidates have the courage to really go for it, their recourse but to pander for votes or waffle just enough to make both sides think he or she is on theirs.

And for scare-talk, there’s much whisper that a certain candidate “would be a disaster,” as if recent history has not been. And some local pols are selling their souls to be on who they guess will be the winner while overlooking the ugly face of our current politics.

Bottom line: It scares me most of all that we care too little for ethics, honesty and good relations between our leaders, and more for high-handedness and poor relations.


John Burciaga of Newburyport writes on politics and social issues. He can be emailed at