The major debate afoot right now is not what you think it is. It’s not the election, not black lives matter, not even how much money we’ll get in the coming stimulus bill, although that is definitely in our minds.

Instead, the really big issue for everyone is whether school, opening for the coming year, should be in person or online. As I do not have kids in school, the question does not directly impact me. Nonetheless, we are Here and Sphere for a reason. Important public policy is our mission’s arena, and no decision seems more significant to us than how to educate our kids.

What we can do, if not to decide the big question, is to make sure that important factors do not get passed by. First of these, in our opinion, is that in-person school is mandated for a reason : kids cannot do without peer interaction. Do we value “diversity,” or don’t we ? Kids in school meet all of each other and have to deal with all of each other. It’s hard enough a sit is to know contemporaries who live in different neighborhoods without imposing more drastic social isolation. An entire school year spent at home, learning in the anodyne medium of on-line, trades socialization for safety. Yet is it safe, socially, to do his ? I wonder.

Some will say that the reality is that kids will separate into cliques anyway, including skin color cliques, so nothing is in the end gained by requiring kids to attend in-person school. These observers may well be correct; yet are we to simply give in to undesirable social outcomes rather than do what we can to dilute them ? I understand that after graduation, out in the real world, kids, now adults, will enter workplaces in which “diversity,” more or less, is in place. I’m not satisfied with that answer. It’s much harder to develop a workplace friendship than a school one. At work, adults practice dissimulation. They “front,’ as the slang has it. In school, these social strategies are far less workable, not to mention not yet come to mind.

For all these reasons, I strongly favor kids returning to in-person school.

There is more — considerations of a different kind: money. The Boston Public School budget includes $ 106,000,000 for “transportation.” It shouldn’t be there in any case, but at least it is required for in-person schools., If Boston decides to impose online, at-home schooling, what becomes of the now otiose $ 106,000,000 ? And what of the school facilities maintenance budget, several millions of dollars ? It’s hard to justify not returning all these dollars to the taxpayer, yet I’ll sell you six hundred Portland antifa lasers if you think tax money will EVER be returned to those who pay it.

Lastly, a parenting consideration : if Boston school kids are required to school from home, who will watch over them ? Supposedly we would like to get people back to work sooner rather than later. For high-tech folks who work from home as a matter of course, no problem; but for first responders, retail workers, health care aides, transport workers, construction guys, and many more,. work from home cannot happen. They HAVE to go to a workplace. How can they do this if their kids are stuck at home doing school by “zoom” ? You say “daycare,” but individualized daycare is far too expensive for the very workers who will need it the most.

Finally, an ethical consideration : safety is important, yes, but is it so important that we discard all of the above for its sole sake ? Maybe so. Maybe we do that. But there will be a price paid : not by us but by the kids themselves whom we are running through a safety gauntlet..

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ State Representative Hannah Kane : the five amendments which she emphaized to the House police reform bill can make the bill acceptable.

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Three days ago the Massachusetts House voted 93 to 66 to approve a police reform bill that still misses the mark. The bill is certainly less radical than  the Senate’s bill, which imposes impossible conditions on policing and on nurses, firemen, and first responders as well. Speaker DeLeo is to be commended for crafting a bill that can almost be accepted.

The House bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that exempts officers (and nurses, firemen, and first responders) from personal liability for actions taken in the course of their work. The Senate bill proposed to wipe qualified immunity out entirely. So far, so good for the House. Only officers who are decertified, as a result of a decertification procedure set forth in the House bill will lose their immunity. That is a fair compromise.

The bill also incorporates most of Governor Baker’s own certification and police training bill. It lacks only the $ 500 training bonus in Baker’s bill.

Yet the House bill still asks too much of officers. It imposes on officers a duty to intervene if they see an officer violating police procedure. I find that an unrealistic imposition. Officers are not going to second guess their fellows, or, if they do, their fellows are unlikely to want to partner with them in the future. In addition, decertification criteria remain unclear. They are to be reported by a commission created by this bill and tasked with informing us NEXT YEAR If that is thee case, why can’t the whole bill wait till next year ? What is the hurry ?

The House bill also bars schools from sharing with police departments incidents of gang activity on school premises. This is unacceptable. Schools are hardly exempt from gang works, indeed they are a locus of much other juvenile crime and have been thus since at least the 1970s, when teacher assaults became common.

During debate on the House bill, State Representative Hannah Kane, who represents Westborough and Shrewsbury, highlighted five amendments which would have made the House bill a successful consensus. Read them here :

• establishing a clear definition of what constitutes unprofessional police conduct, to include excessive use of physical force or repeated and sustained instances of behavior that violates departmental policies;
• protecting police officers from anonymous complaints by requiring that complaints submitted to the Division of Police Standards be from an identifiable complainant and signed under the pains and penalties of perjury;
• mandating that prior disciplinary actions resolved or adjudicated before the effective date of the bill not be considered sufficient on their own to deny an officer recertification, but may be used if the officer becomes the subject of further discipline after the effective date;
• eliminating language that prohibits school officials from sharing information on students who may be involved in gang activity with outside law enforcement agencies; and
• removing restrictive language that prevents individuals with prior law enforcement experience from serving on the new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission.

Unfortunately, all five were rejected. I ask that the House reconsider the vote, or at least that Representative Kane’s amendments be added to the house while it is in joint conference.

The Speaker says he wants to get this 129 page bill to the Governor by Friday. I repeat my above question : what is the hurry ? This is a complex bill, making several significant changes to the operation of police forces — an institution basic to maintaining civic peace and safety. I cannot understand why our legislature would want to rush any such bill. Even if Representative Kane’s five amendments are added to the bill, it should be tabled and resubmitted next year so that all concerned can assemble their objections or support, after which extensive public hearings can be held.

That is what OUGHT be done. Will it be ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




There’s a lot to like in Governor Baker’s bill to establish certification of police officers and officer applicants. It’s the one police improvement bill the legislature should enact.

You can read its provision s here :

The bill is simple and functional. It includes none of the punitive provisions ore pejorative tone of the bill recently approved by the State Senate — a bill now being assessed by the House and which we do not like very much. It does not have a police review board specific to one interest group or tribe. It does not specify what police techniques re okay and which are not. It is not a “defund” bill.

Baker’s bill offers police and officer applicants a training bonus. Officers should be paid for the time they will be required to devote to the certification process. we like this provision.

In short, Baker’s bill seeks to bolster the credibility of police forces, not institutionalize distrust of them. Look : skepticism about power is built into our Constitutional system, and rightly so. Yet skepticism becomes an obstacle to good government when it feels like suspicion — when it operates as mere distrust. Baker’s bill, which was filed last month – and surprised most of us, including me — incorporates the same principles that today govern licensing of doctors, attorneys, and real e state brokers. it treats police as professionals and asks them to live up to that level of respect.

It is a good bill. We support it. Lets hope that the House embraces it and that in the ensuing joint conference with the Senate, the Governor’s bill, and not Senate 2820, sees its way to final enactment.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ insurrection in  Portland, Oregon : supported by the same political drift people that opposes Israel defending itself

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Remember way back when, as Israel sen t troops deep into Lebanon to get rid of the PLO once and for all ?

Remember later, when Israel sent its forces into South Lebanon to do away with Hezbollah once and for all ?

Remember several times that Israel sent military force into the Gaza redoubt to get rid of Hamas once and for all ?

I do.

Every one of these uses of force was a crucial defensive move by Israel to destroy thugs whose avowed objective was to wipe out Israel. each said force had launched numerous rockets into Israel, and/or sent assassins into Israel to kill Jews. Eliminating these forces was a vital national interest.

What, then, did the world say about it ? Do about it ? I remember. With the exception of America and its closest allies, “the world” condemned Israel for defending itself. The “world” supported the thugs and the assassins. The ‘world’ called for censuring Israel. Only a US veto stopped it.

The censure was stopped, but not the noisy “worldwide” condemnations; and so in each case Israel bowed to pressure — much of it violent extortion — and stopped the mission short of completion. Each of these organizations lives on, threatening Israel and, in the case of Hezbollah, amassing weapons to attack it and blackmail it. Israel remains under dire, existential threat, forcing the nation to maintain an enormous armed presence and to ally with repressive regimes in its region that share Israel’s enmity for its enemies.

Fast forward to today and to the West Coast of our own nation. An armed insurrection, of avowed marxists, violent and determined to destroy our nation, riots, loots, intimidates, assaults, and burns two cities, Seattle in Washington and Portland Oregon. Our Federal government, which exists first of all to defend us, sends DHS forces into the two cities to defend Federal property and to arrest those who would damage it or attack Federal officers.

Not to snuff out the insurrection, even; just to defend property that belongs to you and me the taxpayer.

What, then, does the America-based version of the “world” that condemns Israel say about our Federal government doing its vital job ? They support the insurrectionists !

I know what I think of this deplorable abandonment of our nation at its most basic. I will refrain from publishing it. I do, however, say : there’s a pattern here. The same people who shout down Israel for defending itself shout down our Federal government for defending its property.

“Down with the police” doesn’t sound much different from “down with Israel.” Israel is America’s loyal ally; the police are Americans’ loyal defenders. Both must then go. Israel must accept defencelessness, and America must helplessly allow insurrectionists to destroy its economy, its cities, its police, its democracy.

By their rhetoric you can know them. The words of Israel’s haters are pretty clear. Those of our own insurrectionists — as well prepared for street battle and funded as Hezbollah was 20 years ago, and becoming ever more co-ordinated — cannot be missed. Our national heroes are enemies, our nation’s progress an injustice, our economy a theft, our people racists. Our insurrectionists are becoming as venomously racist as Israel’s enemies have long been poisonously anti-Semitic. “By their words shall ye know them” still applies.

The enemies of America and of Israel will surely attack me as this, and that, an d whoa and boo. You know what ? I take their attacks as a badge of honor. And so should you.

None of the above should you interpret as sympathy for Mr. Trump. I blame Mr. Trump for much of what is going on. His incompetence and his baiting of our enemies has simply opened the anthill. If fire ants are now pouring into our streets — and very little of it has anything at all to do with the murder of George Floyd; that ship sailed on Day Two — you should blame Mr. Trump as much as anyone.

Can Joe Biden do any better when he takes office next January ? He will bring us honest and competent government, yes. As for the insurrection, we’ll see.

I hope that Joe understands that the insurrection is directed first of all at the Democratic party’s established powers. Regular Democrats run almost all our cities and all of those in which insurrection is waged.

Defunding the Democratic power structure is the first battle being waged by the present insurrection, but this attcak upon Democratic governing bodies has been under way since 2013 at least. We see a mild version of it in Boston. We have watched the intolerant left gather force, a tentative subversion done by legal means : voting and campaigns.

Not so on the West Coast. there, naked rebellion is afoot. Will Joe Biden step in ? After all, its his power base that is under siege. Will he defend it ? We will soon enough find out.

—- Mike Freedberg / H\ere and Sphere



^ the personal is the ethical, and the ethical is the personal : Rabbi Hillel the Elder teaching Torah to the student, one to one.

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When door-knocking for a candidate, as I always do when I’m in a campaign, you quickly learn that every voter has his own vote to give and only his. I’ve met a wife at the door, discussed my candidate with her, and then waited as she called her husband to talk to me, each entirely for themselves only. That I may win the wife’s vote in no way wins me the husband’s vote. The same is true as I go from door to door. Winning Joe’s vote at house number 99 in no way wins me Don’s vote at the house next door nor Mary’s vote at the house after that.

People make up their own minds, and not only about voting. Each of us perceives the external world with our own sense perceptions — not with anybody else’s. There is no skin color way to evaluate what the senses perceive, no judgments to be made because of who one’s grandfather was. I never knew my grandfathers : am I then to refer my perceptions to them ? On most occasions where I must respond to a perception, the response must take placer quickly. There isn’t time to reflect, or very long. The work is mine alone.

Now there are some who will say, “but your responses to perceptions are inherited, or they were taught you early on by your parents, who learned them from their parents.” That may be true, though I’m skeptical; but even when true, the act of perceiving is yours alone because hat you perceive happens now, not 60 years ago when your grandparents were alive, and what you perceive has itself likely changed from its categorical predecessors: for things that take place influence what takes place afterward : cause and effect does happen. Thus your perceptions and responses are yours. What is learned from them, you learn, and only you.

If skin color were a part of perception and response, or one’s ancestry, then what you perceive would be perceived similarly by others of the same skin color, or ancestry. So far as I can tell, that does not happen. What I perceive, only I perceive. A person of the same ancestry as myself, or the same skin color, can be standing right next to me and not perceive any of what I have perceived, much less respond to it. I may speak the same language as the person standing next to me, even the same local dialect or trendy slang, and be of the same age with him; yet I would probably find it difficult to convey to him what I have perceived, or for him to understand what I have perceived by my telling, or, if understood, for him to respond in the same way as I did.

We are born alone and die alone. We pay our own taxes, nobody else’s. We vote our vote, not our ancestral kin’s vote. Is there any important life decision that we make jointly other than those we agree to, such as marriage ? But I am putting my weight on the scales. I assume that there is individual decision. There are persons who deny that individual decision occurs. Count in this number the biological determinists, who assert that what we call “decision” is nothing more than learned, electrical impulses. Well, I don’t know about that. That sounds like mistaking effect for cause.

To import a bit of Bishop Berkeley’s philosophy of knowledge :

Berkeley claimed that abstract ideas are the source of all philosophical perplexity and illusion.  In his Introduction to the Principles of Human Knowledge he argued that, as Locke described abstract ideas (Berkeley considered Locke’s the best account of abstraction), (1) they cannot, in fact, be formed, (2) they are not needed for communication or knowledge, and (3) they are inconsistent and therefore inconceivable.

In the Principles and the Three Dialogues Berkeley defends two metaphysical theses:  idealism (the claim that everything that exists either is a mind or depends on a mind for its existence) and immaterialism (the claim that matter does not exist).  

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All of the above is preamble to my main purpose : to argue against those who see human ethics, politics, and social obligation in terms of group rather than individual. There is nothing new about this rivalry of self and collective. In the ebb and flow of human history, group has often seemed more dependable than self during periods of social decline. We act individually, but most individually in times of great social cohesion in which the mutual obligations of each to all are honored as a matter of course, when there is no debate whether such obligations are actually obligatory. Roman portraiture during the age of Augustus is far more realistic, and more fully fleshed, than during the time of Constantine, when social norms had severely fractured and depictions of persons crashed crudely and stereotyped; and to the magnificent candor of the mid-6th Century mosaics in San Vitale at Ravenna, made 200 years later, but in a place where the rule of Justinian was taken for granted, I contrast Gregory of Tours’s hackneyed annals of gossip and rumor, written barely 30 years later in a city where anarchy as more the rule than civic certainty.

We are told today, by temporary typists, that there is such a thing as “whiteness”; or that “one should be proud to be Black”; and that so and so is a “racist” if he or she exercises “white privilege”; and that we must learn to be “anti racist.” Whatever do these admonitions mean ? What to say about an assertion that assumes its own conclusion ? It isn’t easy to debate a circular target, and I don’t presume to a conclusive antidote.

When discussing human beings, however, one thing that is never, ever ethical to do : deny any person his or her individual dignity, her autonomy, his perceptions and imaginings personal to him alone. Begin with the individual, because individual people do exist. Attempts to categorize two or more people, on any basis, step into the realm of speculation. We can say, without too much risk, that a certain 330,000,000 people are all Americans — though there are many who would deny that all 330,000,000 are that. Much riskier is to categorize people with dark skin color. Many who do not have dark skin color consider themselves Black because of ancestry, and many who do have dark skin do not consider themselves “black,” because of national origin or other reason. But you may say, “well, white people do group dark skin people together and then ‘other’ them” ? To which I respond, maybe so; maybe people do do that; but not all “white” people do it, and in any case, a person is not what others call him; a person is who he actually is, an autonomous individual with his own life to risk and decide about. Nor do I accept there exists a category “white people.” There is nothing that applies to all people with light color skin except having light color skin. The category “white people” is a circular assumption, just as the category “black people.”

There can be no ethics where there is no actor. Only individuals make ethical decisions. And the rule of Rabbi Hillel the Elder sums it up : “whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. this is the whole Torah, the rest is explanation.” Note the terms that Hillel uses : “what is hateful to YOU” and “do not do to YOUR FELLOW.” For Hillel, ethical obligation is personal and person to person, an act of reciprocity between one person and another. The rule becomes societal when all members of a society follow the rule as individuals.

Hillel taught at the height of the Jewish political revival under Herod the Great. 1000 years later, when Pope Gregory VII and his successors felt under threat from various Christian heresies and even a faddish attraction by many to Judaism — the threat was not imaginary at all; in the south of France and cities elsewhere in Europe, heresy and Judaism abounded —  he anathemized “the Jews” and saw to it that Jews were segregated residentially. (Sound familiar ?) For the next 250 years most of Catholic Europe (but not Islamic Spain !) exploited “the Jews,” expelled them, isolated them. As a group, not as individuals.

Did Jews in Europe thereby become ‘a group” ? They did not. Individual Jews made their way individually, some to great success. Individual Jews disputed other Jews. Some converted to Catholicism. Some were agnostic. Many were friends with individual non-Jews, as the stories in Boccaccio’s Decameron make clear. Nothing united them except in being oppressed as “a group,” which was the legal situation but not often the actual. They were “a group” only to those who chose to not know any Jews.

That many in today’s America assert group “pride,” group “culture,” group ethics and group existence is a measure of our social collapse. Of our loss of personal confidence. Of our fear of our fellow man. There is nothing at all good in any of this. Where the individual loses his or her personal sacred; where he or she finds succor only in the company of those who “look like” him or her; where we judge that “racism” is anything other than an absurdity — there we step into an undertow with no bottom, a falsity with no truth, a circular argument which is actually an eddy sucking us into it, though of course we feel it as liberation — the freedom that comes with death spiritual as well as epistemological.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ a hero for our time. (photo by Tim Terranova, of bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

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Last night, at 4.15 AM, the State Senate voted to enact an “emergency” police bill by a vote of 30 to 10.

One might think that this bill addresses the actual emergency, which we have all seen : assaults upon our police forces by rioters and “peaceful” protesters, harassment of police and their families (even shootings), and defunding actions by various City Councils that undercut the police, who are on the front lines combating the mayhem in the streets of so many American cities right now — not to forget the crime sprees that have gushered up in many cities these past few weeks.

Yet one who assumes this would be wrong.

The Massachusetts Senate bill just voted 30 to 10 addresses nothing of the kind. Instead, it weakens the police and creates an unnecessary, racially constituted commission whose members are to be appointed by persons of said race, for the express purpose of overseeing police operations dramatically compromised by other provisions of this bill.

Begin with the bill’s title : “An act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color.”

What the blazes is this sentence talking about ? It isn’t the police force’s responsibility to create a “more equitable and fair” commonwealth or to “value Black lives,” etc. The police’s job is to fight crime and to work with neighborhood residents to arrest those responsible. The first request that people ask of police is to keep us safe and to arrest those who interrupt our safety. What else should police do but that ? As for valuing lives, police must first value the lives of those who they are protecting. That is who police work for. ’nuff said.

Sections 3 and 4 of the bill read mostly useful. They outline detailed standards for training prospective police, an initiative which Governor Baker has himself proposed and which makes sense. Section four, however, includes the following language at its end : (iv) the history of slavery, lynching, racist legal institutions and racism in the United States. What this condescending history lesson has to do with the job of keeping residents safe from criminals, I don’t know. Slavery ended 155 years ago — seven generations. Policing takes place entirely in the present, as does almost all of life. I’m also very skeptical, given today’s maoist bullyings and “cancel culture” — all of it assaulting people in the street and online — of the line that would be taken by the “history teachers” who would be providing these lessons.

Sections 6 through 33 of the bill spell out detailed regulations and standards for appointing, overseeing, and promoting or disciplining police, Most can be accepted, although I note that they override union contracts or set aside civil service protections, all of which generations of police and government reformers have fought to enact and maintain.

Sections 34 through 41 of the bill regulate funds received by police forces from other than State budgeting and also enumerate military-grade equipment to be used by police. I have no significant objections to any of these.

Sections 42 through regulate the disciplining of police officers and include the following absolutely objection able provision, which I expect will be stricken from the bill in House deliberations to come : Section 98H. An agency employing a law enforcement officer, as defined section 220 of chapter 6, shall not include or permit the inclusion of a nondisclosure, non-disparagement or other similar clause in a settlement agreement between the agency and a complainant; provided, however, that such settlement may include, but not be limited to, a provision that prevents the agency from disclosing the identity of the complainant and all facts that could lead to the discovery of the complainant’s identity if such provision is requested and approved by the complaint.

Equally offensive is the following school police provision, which cannot stand : School department personnel shall not disclose to a law enforcement officer or agency, or submit to a database or system designed to track gang affiliation or involvement, any information from its databases or other record-keeping systems including, but not be limited to: (i) immigration status; (ii) citizenship; (iii) neighborhood of residence; (iv) religion; (v) national origin; (vi) ethnicity; (vii) native or spoken language; (viii) suspected gang affiliation, unless it is germane to a specific unlawful incident or to a specific prospect of unlawful activity the school is otherwise required to report; (ix) participation in school activities, extracurricular activities outside of school, sports teams or school clubs or organizations; (x) degrees, honors or awards; and (xi) post-high school plans

Section 52 micro-manages street-stop policing to such an extent that front line policing becomes next to impossible. Read the provision here — —  to find out just how unrealistic this provision is.

Section 55 regulates actual police uses of force — a fit subject for reform — much too far, crippling a forceful response to rioting, looting, and harassment of officers. The useful admonitions it does offer are already standard policy for most Massachusetts police forces.

Section 58 : I quote in full.

Chapter 276 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 2C the following section:-

Section 2D. (a) A warrant that does not require a law enforcement officer to knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence shall not be issued except by a judge and only if the affidavit supporting the request for the warrant establishes probable cause that if the law enforcement officer announces their presence their life or the lives of others will be endangered.

(b) A police officer executing a search warrant shall knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence unless authorized by warrant to enter pursuant to subsection (a).

(c) An officer shall not dispense with the requirements of subsections (a) and (b) except to prevent a credible risk of imminent harm as defined in section 1 of chapter 147A.

(d) Evidence seized or obtained during the execution of a warrant shall be inadmissible if a law enforcement officer violates this section.

So much for taking into custody dangerous persons who would surely skee-daddle if notified in advance. This provision arises, of course, from the Breoma Taylor death caused by officers exercising a no-knock warrant at the wrong house for a suspect already in custody. Wrong in so many ways as that police mistake was, it strikes me reckless to place unworkable provisos upon these warrants.

I understand that this column has become a very long read. I will therefore sum up the reaminder of the bill.

It revises guidelines for sealing one’s criminal record. It also eliminates “qualified immunity” from lawsuit for police, firemen, nurses (!!!) and first responders for actions they may perform in the course of doing their jobs. This elimination has generated a ton of controversy. it’s probably the one part of Senate 2800 that you have heard of. It cannot stand.

What policeman, fireman, nurse or first responder is going to risk his or her life, or serious injury, from going into danger, if he or she knows that persons with grievances can ruin their finances, cost them their jobs, and destroy their reputations ? Qualified immunity is the sine qua non of employment in jobs of danger where the readiness to face danger must be supported in every way possible. This bill’s elimination of it alone makes the bill unacceptable.

—- Mikde Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Recently, a famous author, J K Rowling, has published an opinion about transgender with which I in part disagree. That I disagree with it partially makes it all the more important that she publish it and contribute to a discussion — which by definition means more than one opinion. If there is only one opinion, there is no discussion.

You can and probably should read Rowling’s long and detailed report here :

Much that Rowling writes troubles me. Transgender is not to be taken as a fad or as a peer group happy trip. This is what Rowling sees happening, and if so, the situation certainly troubles me, as it should bother anyone. Again : transgender is not a plaything, not a gift pony that a kid gets bored with and mistreats. Any sexual or gender feeling ought be confronted by the person felling it and by his or her parents if the transgender is a child. I personally know several parents who are handling such a situation with great care and awareness. There no other good way. I can also assure you that transgender does not become any easier when one reaches adult years. It is never easy.

Upon this riddle, well observed opinions such as Rowling’s must be taken to heart BEFORE any sort of disagreement begins.

Divergent opinions must always be taken seriously, for in human affairs, as well as what human beings can or cannot know, there is no final; truth. Life is a mystery, and perception is subjective; Bishop Berkeley, 250 years ago, made clear that perception is literally in the eye of the beholder. Skepticism is therefore wise in all things.

As for Rowling’s view, she holds that transgender may not be the last word. As I believe myself to be transgender., I can attest that i find my situation an inexplicable mystery. That I feel transgender strongly does not mean that I comprehend my feelings. It is wise to respect those feelings, but not to be intimidated by them.

\Rowling has run into some opposition, not so much to what she opines as to her being able to publish it at all. This I reject. We who find ourselves on a sexual or gender path that doe snot fit the neatly binary categories traditional to society should do what is always wise for human beings to do about everything epistemological : never assume that any judgment is final or true. And if this approach makes one’s life difficult, or tentative ? well, life is difficult, and it is tentative.

That one’s gender or sexual situation is tentative does not, of course, permit anyone else to disparage anyone. Everyone’s life is for that person to figure out and is almost always none of anyone else’s business. So many of us arrogate a permission to decry other people for being who they believe they are. No such arrogance should ever be embraced. We are all journeying through a glass, darkly: and again, here, as everywhere., the rule stated by Rabbi Hillel the Elder apples : whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. this is the whole Torah, the rest is explanation. You do not want to be judged by others, so do not judge them. Questions about sex and gender, as a general proposition, however, must always be on the table : for no man knows who he is or what is, or likely ever will.

I thank J K Rowling for offering her well-considered views on a topic that no one will likely ever understand.

Note : there may be people ho will feel moved to “cancel” me for writing this editorial. To which I say : “by all means — be my guest.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Last night my wife and I returned home from a four-day visit to her brother’s house just outside Washington. Most of the trip was just that, a family affair. But for me, at least, the visit to Washington itself proved to be inspirational. This was the weekend of our Independence Day ! Thus celebration was a pre-condition.

We visited sites that, until the recent attacks on America;s national consensus, I had taken  for granted. Never did I imagine that I would need to pay respects to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, and the National mall. These locii of our national loyalty I had assumed were a given, salutes to ideals and a history that all of us shared and loved. But the destructive events of the past month have shown me that I was wrong; that things which I, and almost all of you, took for granted, had somehow become objects of violent hatred.

I leave aside any attempt to analyze the origins of this hatred, or its manifestations. Plenty of keyboard warriors are out there fulminating and condescending, accusing and sarcastic, bullying the ordinaries, arousing the all-knowing.

One warning for those who wish to visit as I did : it is very, very, VERY HOT in Washington on a July weekend.

I paid my respects to Abraham Lincoln, to George Washington, To Martin Luther King (who delivered his “I have a Dream,” address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), to President Lincoln and Archer Alexander, to the White House’s occupants, to Thomas Jefferson,. to Vietnam’s war dead, to the beauty of the Mall. I saluted the huge US Treasury building, bristling in its Napoleon III spread and bulk. I grinned at the glass-windowed, lobbyists’ offices of K Street. I hummed the elegance of Northwest’s beautiful townhouses.  I crossed the Potomac (though not as George Washington did.) It’s all there, the magnificence of an imperially vast presumption, in our case, the assurance that we are the servants of a manifest destiny, to bring democracy and opportunity, freedom and the melting pot, to every human being everywhere. he finest manifest ever devised by flawed men and women.

I share that assurance. I hope that you share it, too.

There was, of course, more to see. The phrase “black lives matter” has become the song of 2020, and it was sung almost everywhere in Washington that I visited. It was drumming in the fences and barriers erected along every street between Constitution Avenue and the Potomac (and more), protecting national monuments from attack by vandals. It piped in the conversations between my wife, myself, and other visitors who we met. It hip hopped a bassline in the boarded up windows on almost every building — hotels, stores, restaurants, bars — along sections of H street where “peaceful protesters” have disrupted and broken stuff almost every night. And it chuckled a Bo Diddley guitar riff on “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” formerly two blocks of 15th Street facing the White House, are lined with souvenir kiosks hawking T shirts, masks, paraphernalia in the usual tourist manner.

The phrase certainly fits a mood of Washington today. Downtown, it cannot be put out of mind. What it means, is up to you. I accept it because how can one not affirm that a life matters, whosoever’s it might be ? I don’t mind that the phrase singles out, for special attention, certain lives, even if the singling out is done on a skin color basis. Easy as it is for the phrase to lead to logical and factual dead ends, it’s just as easy to not give in to those temptations and use the phrase “black lives matter” to apply to cavalier killings of black persons — but be careful of the definition ! — by agents of our justice system. If we limit the application to just that narrow event pathway we can maybe achieve important reforms that will allow “black lives matter” to become as honorable to remember as the honorables who I visited this past few days.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere