Posts by hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.



The world has been challenged this past year by a virus, a zombie organism that attacks parts of the human body, fatally in some cases, others delibilitating. So far, about 4,550,000 humans have died as a result of Covid-19.

Rapidly three effective vaccines have been developed using “mRNA” chemistry which reverses the processes by which the novel coronavirus attaches itself to human cells — respiratory cells chiefly. The vaccines have proven to be — so the data have shown — 90 to 95 percent effective against the virus and over 99 percent effective against hospitalization. Few if any vaccines have ever mounted such a success rate. A big win for humans.

The world is vaccinating rapidly, as it should. Yet in the United States, and almost only in the United States, a significant number of people reject, even oppose, being vaccinated. Why ? I really have no idea; the reasons given make no sense, are mostly irrelevant, are pure willfulness, stubborn, deadly. I have nothing further to say to those who profess such death vibes and whose pig-headed morbidity endangers the rest of us who have the misfortune to be their neighbors.

Instead, I want merely to talk of my own vaccination.

On February 8th I received my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, by most accounts the most effective. My second dose arrived in my shoulder on March 5th. I will be getting a booster shot as soon as I am allowed. These shots were not my first. I’m vaccinated against measles, the flu, pneumonia, chicken pox, mumps.

My Dad was a Doctor, a “G P” or house doctor. I saw him diagnose and treat patients every day. I listened to him describe to me the way the human body works — muscles, glands, blood vessels, nerves, the brain. He described to me the symptoms of several diseases and what these symptoms entail. I watched as he sewed up wounded patients in the emergency room. I read his anatomy book, his treatise of endocrinology (endocrine glands are those which secrete a serum; the testicles are endocrines, as is the pancreas, etc.), his books on nervous disorders like multiple sclerosis, ALS, and dystrophy, appendicitis, gastroenterological diseases (ulcers, hernia, etc.), urinary infections. He loved to remind me that the human body is like my car (I was a hot rod car nut as a kid): it is made up of parts, and you must maintain those parts diligently or they will break down.

These were not Dad’s speculations. They were physical facts that I could see, feel, touch, observe. I am told, by vaccine deniers, that science is speculative and really, who knows ? But the human body is not a matter of speculation. it is not quantum mechanics, gravity, subatomic particle physics, archaeology, or evolution. You can see it being itself.

Why and for what possible reason would a person refuse to protect his bodily parts against a viral invader ? What sense does it make to die, or be incapacitated, by a virus which is so readily disabled by a chemical remedy administered to the shoulder the way oil is inserted into a car’s engine or brake fluid into into an hydraulic pump ? Yet we see people dying, or becoming seriously sick, by exactly such a refusal to care for their bodily car. They would more surely change their car’s oil, or check out its radiator, or make sure of its brakes, than they will do of their own body, the car of their life. Why ?

We can’t all be lucky enough to have a Doctor a sour Dad or Mom, but we can darn well act as if our Doctor were our parent and thus LISTEN to him or her and WATCH him or her as he or she treats the bodies of our fellow humans. Maybe if we were to do that, we’d get vaccinated and thereby save our bodies and thus our lives and protect the bodies of our fellows.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere



^^^ seeking a fourth term : Mayor Kim Driscoll, as commanding a figure as any Mayor in America

The present tack that the City of Salem is on cannot continue. No City in America should ever be remade as an emporium of junky quality, box-unit, elephant-big apartment buildings. Yet that is what Salem is fast becoming, with much more of it on offer if present policy continues.

Salem, of all cities, deserves differently. Here, history oozes from the bricks of sidewalks, screams from, the clapboarding of ancient houses. The bodies of falsely accused persons — hanged as witches — lie in Salem cemeteries. Nat Hawthorne and his Custom, House, in which he wrote The Scarlet Letter, are commemorated there ad all around the City. 15 houses from the First Period remain in old Salem, some of them still lived in. THESE are what plans for Salem’s future should imitate and bolster. Instead, the big plan is to create a city of featureless residential warehouses, overpriced as well — more Amazon, airport hangar, and Walmart than Nat Hawthorne, 1692, and sea captains.

Mayor Driscoll talks of “affordable” housing and the necessity for it. The opposite is happening. The junk being built, or planned, is and will all be overpriced, way overpriced. Affordability in it, there is none. Instead, the more junk boxes get built, the higher that rents and sale prices go. Why that is the case would require a lengthy economic analysis not useful in this endorsement article. Suffice for now to assert the illogical fact of it.

So the question arises : how do Salem voters turn back this wave of price-gouging junk ? Some say, “replace Mayor Driscoll, whose plans these are.” I disagree.

Driscoll does want one change which we enthusiastically endorse : making Salem’s long waterfront overwhelmingly residential rather than industrial, as most of it has been for 125 years and more.

Most of Driscoll’s other building plans deplore : but she is also a stalwart of what we now call “inclusion”, a very thorough administrator (some would say “too thorough”) and has the confidence of Governor Baker. These are not attributes and advantages Salem should just cast aside. How about, instead, voting to keep Driscoll’s diligence, her savvy, her civil rights idealism, and the State respect which she so clearly has, and instead, give her a City Council whose majority will require her to change direction ? This is what our endorsements intend.

For Mayor : we endorse Kim Driscoll for a fourth term for the reasons given.

For City Council : there are many, many great and independent candidates, although one of the most independent, Arthur Sargent, is not running for re-election. That saddens us, yet there are other candidates who will do Salem proud. Voters will elect FOUR. We offer five recommendations to choose from, some of whom support Driscoll’s plans, which we justify because the Mayor is entitled to a voice even in an independent Council :

Our five at Large recommendations are Domingo Dominguez, seeking re-election to a third term; Conrad Prosniewski, former Police Department community engagement officer, seeking a second term; Alice Merkl, a supporter of Mayor Driscoll, who ran last time and missed election by only 100 votes; Melissa Faulkner, who also ran last time; and Juana Fernandez, a promising newcomer.

Salem also elects seven Ward Councillors, one from each of the City’s wards. Our recommendations :

Ward One : Belle Steadman, who ran citywide last time. Definitely an independent voice.

Ward Three : David Freni, who is challenging a Mayor Driscoll loyalist in a ward deeply impacted by junk-unit box ruination.

Ward Four : Stepanie Rodriguez is not only independent, she is also this year’s most engaged outreach campaigner with a confident and affable personality to match., We enthusiastically endorse her.

Ward Five : Steve Kapantais seeks the seat being vacated by Josh Turiel. Steve has long been a leader of those who seek an independent Council.

Ward Seven : Francis Riggieri seeks the Council position being vacated by Steve Dibble, who is challenging mayor Driscoll. he faces a strong supporter of Mayor Driscoll making a second run at this Council seat.

Were all of our recommendations to win election, Salem would have a Council with four votes Mayor Driscoll can count on and seven which she would have to try to convince. We like such an outcome. It would be a Council of persuasion and debate, upon issues which will decide if Salem becomes a livable City of history and residable waterfront or a dense hive of featureless, junk-constructed, overpriced “units.” As we see it, the matter is absolutely existential.

— Mike Freedberg, for the editors of Here and Sphere



The above person may be known to you. By name, anyway. By reputation, not so much. Once upon a time, he was a giant of our elected democracy, an elected Mayor entrusted with governing a major City, which duty he mostly exemplified.

But that was 20 years ago.

On his watch, terrorists steered hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon and were prevented from further destruction only by the heroic self-sacrifice of Flight 93’s heroes.

Rudy Giuliani was younger then, and so was our nation. We still lived by the founding ideals and fulfilled our oaths to the Constitution so exhaustingly forged and won then some 212 years prior. Even those who did not like our national politics did not contemplate subverting it. we were mindful of our nation’s victories in war and in peace, of our immigrant character, of our certainty that — as President Reagan put it — “our best days lie ahead.”

But that was then.

In the twenty years since that awful day in September, 2001, our nation has lived in fear — of another such attack ? Of our vulnerabilities ? Of the world beyond our shores ? Of ourselves ? maybe all four.

Not all of us live in such fear. Maybe half of all Americans still believe in the future.Maybe even more than half ? Yet the half, or almost half, who do not believe in the future have since 2001 spread their fears across the lives of all of us. Some of us feel that blanket of black more directly than others, yet all of us can smell its wool, its mildew, a blanket from the crypt of the crazed.

There is poison in it all. Poison to the soul, strychnine to the mind. Rudy Giuliani epitomizes its effects. We often blame Trump for unleashing these cyanides upon us, but there would have been no Trump but for the effects of 9/11, 2001. How else to explain the reduction of Giuliani ? A friend of Trump, he was already within Trump’s range of contagion. He could have left that circle of defeat. He could have said, as most of us would have, that no, I will not go down your road, your avenue of lies, of hate, of subversion of all we hold dear and which I once held dear.

He could have said all that. He did not.

He once knew better. On 9/11 he had been a hero, a front line, hands on Mayor of 8,000,000 people, citizens and visitors, immigrants and commuters. Why did he not continue to walk that path ? Why have so many millions of us also not walked it ?

The United States of America was founded by immigrants, created a nation by educated men who believed in the rights of all men, the equality of all, of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. President Washington invited immigrants of all stations of life. The Federal government enabled our infrastructure, our land grants, our public colleges, the Federal highway system, public electricity, the Federal Reserve System, a social safety net. It regulated our commerce, as empowered by the Constitution. Harder to win, the civil frights of all, yet by 1965 those legal rights were won for good and always.

It was a history worth celebrating, of ideals and purposes many of us gave our lives to advance. Most of my own life has been lived thereunder. I know the drill, and I celebrate it. I grew up proud to be an American. Grandson of immigrants who risked their all to come here nad be whatever they could strive to be.

The confidence of those founders, and of our immigrants : where is it ? Why have we misplaced it ?

Yet to all things there is, as the prophet has written, a season; and the life of nations is no exception to seasonality. It is clear now that, a mere 20 years after 9/11, America is fracturing. One half of us wants to advance into the future according to our ideals and in furtherance thereof. The other half wants to abolish all that we have lived these past 232 years.

That this other half pursues an entirely different future from the American mission is its right — I may be saddened by their mission, even angered by it, but it is their right to have. I get that they despise immigration; hate Jews and many other sorts of scapegoat-able people; demand to control women’s health care and bodies; eliminate the social safety net; and many other abolitions of all that we, of the other half, cherish. I get that they want these things., What I do not get — what I WILL NEVER accept — is their readiness to destroy our Constitutional democracy on the way to getting their way of things, or their readiness top consort with our national enemies — all manner of tyrants and charlatans around the world — as a mans of subverting and sabotaging the nation.

Rudy Giuliani has done all of the above.

He did all that in service to his friend Trump, or so we are told; yet as I see it, he did all that he did because he wanted to do them. He did them to satisfy himself — turned his back on all that he was and had been and on his reputation. Can anyone really believe that he did that because he was pushed to do it ? No. He did what he did because he has no self, no honor to which he is sworn, no commitment to any duty. To be a man one must live beyond the mere moment and outside the aroma of aladdin lamps. To be a man one must have principles for which one will say “no” to those who would abuse them.

Rudy has failed that test.

He is far from the only one to fail it.

The nation itself is failing it. In my opinion, no matter how hard the others of us struggle, there is no going back. We will have only a half future.

In the life of nations, half a loaf is not better than no loaf at all.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



State Representative Adrian Madaro moderates a neighbors’ meeting to protest the City of Boston’s proposed changes to traffic and development zoning.

—- —- —-

Can I ask you a dumb question ?”

That’s what I asked of Jay Ruggiero last night, the City of Boston’s outreach co-ordinator for its “Boston Planning and Development” department.

Jay lives in East Boston, a lifelong resident and a son of our respected funeral director Joe Ruggiero, Sr. Jay knows exactly what I was getting at and why. Yet there wasn’t much he could say, and I can’t fault him. During the past two years he has tried to engage community activists in the ambitious re-thinkings the City intends for its chief neighborhood of newcomer immigrants.

Last night, however, those rethinkings met up with a large group of Meridian Street residents (and many from adjacent streets) who do not want to be re-thought, or re-planned; who want really to leave well enough alone. Led by Karen Osarenkhoe and moderated by State Representative Adrian Madaro — who lives nearby — about 40 people., few of them known activists, said “no mas !” to plans that would eliminate car parking on one entire side of Meridian Street and Border Street and make Border Street one way.

The 40 had plenty to say, none of it congratulatory. Nor did the neighbors present — at 7.30 pm on a sweltering summer night when many folks are on vacation or want to be — cotton to the idea of allowing four story development on Meridian Street and five story (!!!) buildings on Border Street.

One could well ask the question, “why does the City want to do any of this ?” Instead, i asked a more basic question ; ‘why can’t the City just leave well enough alone ?”

East Boston works as a community. It is Boston’s primary receptor of newly landing immigrants., My grandparents were among those. They arrived — penniless — in 1896. They were no different from immigrants who came in 1920, 1960, 1970, 1990, or now. They arrived in a neighborhood of very inexpensive housing, near to all sorts of grunt work that new immigrants will do, close to many churches, several schools, corner stores, ethnic eateries, ball fields, and piers off which immigrant kids (like my Mom and her siblings) can dive to escape hot summer days. Even now, when immigrants have become somehow an unpopular cause, newcomers continue to come to East Boston; because Boston has jobs and it has opportunity, and those are what immigrants risk everything to get to. Which is why East Boston is what it is.

Why, then, would the City want to screw around with a community set up that works ? Shouldn’t a City government SUPPORT a community that works and look for changes elsewhere, where they are useful ? I mean, Boston’s City government has enough to do, trying to make our schools work — having a $ 1.25 billion budget to work our schools with — and also boost its police department, now short some 500 officers, including several retiring right here in Eastie’s District Seven.

I mean, why should an immigrant community become the new South beach ? A new Marina bay ? Condominiums at $ 600,000 and homes for $ 1.2,00,000, all of them snapped up by the new highly paid elite who like the idea of living near a harbor view ? The highly paid can buy or rent anywhere. Immigrants working for scant wages don ‘t have that luxury. As for Eastie residents who earn better money, or are retired, why should they be forced to move or to watch 75 percent of their neighbors move out ?

And why does Meridian Street, a street that works — that has long accommodated to its traffic flows and parking woes — now be forced to remake all of its long-settled adjustments because somebody has decided that buses, which have traveled Meridian Street for generations, now need a special travel lane ?

You would think that a rational politician would realize that it doesn’t pay to remake a community of 40,000 into something it isn’t, thereby maybe pissing off 10,000 voters. Or to remake streets and traffic just for the hell of it ? But no ; our City electeds, somehow, decided maybe a decade ago that East Boston should become the new Klondike for a generation of gold rush developers who could reap huge profits everywhere between Waldemar Avenue and Border Street and thereby fill the campaign coffers of candidates needing upwards of $ 250,000 to fund their campaigns. Take a look at the “OCPF” website; it’s all there — the vast funds thrown at candidates by developers and , indeed, the entire development-process coterie.

Yet if it’s developers and their aides who provide the bucks, it’s neighbors who do the voting; and the voters of East Boston, at least, have had enough and are gathering in ever-increasing numbers to say so loudly and publicly. Forty people may not sound like much, but the meridian Street neighborhood has not been the scene of mass activism. I fully expect to see many more people at a next meeting, and the same is happening elsewhere in East Boston, a community which has finally decided to yell a collective yell at a City bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care.


— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Afghan families walk by the aircrafts at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

— — — —

Much criticism is heading President Biden’s way concerning what we, the USA, did or did not do correctly leading up to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban insurgents. I find most of that criticism unfounded.

Such criticism as may be made ought go to the humiliating deal that our former President made. Almost al the evil consequences we have witnessed derive from that sellout of our Afghan friends.

As for the only option left — complete evacuation — it is maybe the hardest military operation. Plenty of momentum for “fubar.”

Yet There is always much “fubar” in war. The crux isn’t avoiding fubar but what one does to counter it. Our military leaders misjudged how quickly Kabul would be taken; they have moved strongly to get the evacuation phase in order. Of course it’s not pretty — evacuations and retreats rarely look trim. But consider where we are right now :

5200 troops on the ground controlling HKAI airport.

More consular officers on the ground to help process people seeking a flight out.

More entry gates to the airport being opened and manned by our soldiers.

US Navy jets flying constant sorties over Kabul city to protect people seeking to leave.

Special ops teams exfiltrating at-risk individuals and families by night.

More troops coming, and there’s the possibility of “widening” the perimeter of the airport under our control.

Will everything go smoothly ? Doubtless not. This is a seat-of-the-pants, ad hoc operation, correcting itself on the run. Yet if the Taliban have any doubts about our resolve to get this evacuation done in full, they’ll soon find out. I especially like that President Biden has taken full responsibility, publicly, upon himself. He has, of course, done so for all his administration’s major initiatives. Is there anyone who would rather see the former guy in charge of this stuff ?

Speaking of the former guy, did you se where Stephen Miller, his chief persecutor of immigrants, spurns our welcoming the Afghan refugees, saying “they won’t fit into our way of life” ? Immediately he said that he was swatted back by an immigrants’ advocate noting that Miller’s “way of life” included separating 5000 migrant-refugee children from their parents.

Several Governors, of both political parties, have offered welcome to such Afghan refugees as are coming here./ I could not be prouder of them for offering this. we are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Welcoming the Afghans who want to join us is as American a thing as it gets.

I’m good with President Biden’s “way of life.” And with his management of the Kabul evacuation.

So far.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Shall controlled transportation now be the criterion for “housing” ? If policy makers get their way, yup! (Here, An outbound MBTA train oln the beloved Blue Line cranks its way to Orient Heights Station in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It is evidently not bad enough that our policy makers have imposed junk “units” on communities that used to work as such but are rapidly being remade into glorified college dorms. Now these same policy makers want to impose “transit’ on us — to link the construction of crap-itecture boxes to renovation and expansion of the horror we call “public transportation.” What could possibly go wrong ?

We are toild, by these highly-paid experts, that the future of our economy requiires that people live in “transit-oriented” housing — by which I suppose they mean, housing that is walkably close to a bus stop or subway station. When one asks, as I now do, why living close to a bus stop is vital to economic growth, they have no good answer. Instead, they tell me that the more people who live close to a bus stop, say, the fewer will need cars and thus the less impact upon our climate, which, say the policy makers, is nearing irreversible doom state.

Obviously a doom climate would be hella bad for our economy. Thus, say the experts, we must subject both housing and personal mobility to a third criterion. I’m not au fait with this, and I doubt that you are happy with it either. As for climate,. planting millions of trees — as smart metropolises are now doing — will do more for climate health than any mobility control. The same is true of electric vehicles, which will be enormously enabled by the electric charging stations being funded by the infrastructure bill soon to pass Congress.

So much for requiring more public transportation and housing tied to its presence.

To continue : why do we need “transit oriented housing’ when, as a result of Covid, many people will continue to work from home ? The old regime of commuting from home to the office or factory is not coming back. Moreover, people working from home don’t need to live in an overly dense, sardine-like city. They can live in the suburbs, or the exurbs, or even farther away and do just fine. As for those who cannot work from home — maintenance people, grocery workers, health care people and such like — their housing need is for apartments or owned homes that they can afford, which is none at all of what is being built now or contemplated as “transit oriented.” Need I tell you AGAIN that what is being built in Boston today is enormously expensive and likely to become more so ? Because it is not service workers, etc., who move into it, because the costs are way, way beyond what such workers earn.

The “units” now being built are priced for the well-paid or for the city’s thousands of college students (often these “units’ are advertised as such !); but even if these crap boxes were priced to working-class incomes, they would be unacceptable because of the utter lack of community therein. East Boston’s housing stock was built as singles, two-families, and threes, a mall-scale architecture which enabled humble community. You knew your neighbors. Doors were not locked, no one was shut out by security systems, you were not parceled out one by one along lengthy corridors as in a hotel or an army barracks. Said housing was also dirt cheap, because land acquisition costs were cheap, and consttruction — even with high quality woods and crafted woodwork — wasn’t expensive either. More significant, almost all potential buyers lor renters were very low income. You either made your construction cheap enough, or you didn’t build at all.

Many workers in today’s Boston are just as poorly paid, relative to the entire eceonomy, as were the residenbtrs of 1900, but construction today faces so many costly and bureaucratic obstacles that its price points have to be high, and why not, when there exists a vast market for very expensive housing that a developer would be a fool not to build for ? Nor does this very well-paid horde of buiyers or renters have much time for community. If you work 70 hours a week drafting legal briefs or managing hedge funds, you’re sort of unlikely to be kayaking, hiking, or attending a little legaue football game. Not to mention that you probably don’t have kids or are even married. The market which builders aspire to is a young singles market — which is also why bistros like The Quiet Few, Cunard, and the Reel House prosper where family restaurants often don’t.

So much for community. Welcome to dormitory city.

As for the wage earners who supposedly “transit oriented” housing is to serve, all they see right now is that ( 1 ) “transit oriented” means “priced way above me” (and affordability regulations don’t help), and ( 2 ) such affordable housing as does exist is rapidly being bought by devlopers and either demolished to make room for $ 3200 – $ 3800 a month customers or being sold for $ 1,350,000 — to condo converters, because what ordinary working family can afford such a price ?

That any such housing requires an expansion of public transportation is a sick joke. Firstly, many of the buttered young folks moving into $ 600,000 condos or $ 3200 apartments move by bicycle; and our public policy folks have decided that bicycles have a right to the roads thnat were built for cars and paid for by car owners. Second, public transportation is a means of social control. Do we really want more of that ? My grandparents — and yours — came here for liberty; control, they had plenty of back in Europe. Third, the workers whose incomes make it hard for them to own and register a car — given the plethora of fees, fines, taxes, and closts imposed on car owners by our laws — can’t afford much l;onger to live in a $ 3800 a month City. So who, exactly, is this proposed expansion of control transportation going to serve ?

As always, those who do not have much money get nothing but sympathy, plans, and promises when what\’s needed is the basics of life that you or I have grown up assuming would always be there.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Chuck Berry gave us “Promised Land” 60 years ago.

— — — — —

Ronald Reagan, forty years ago, as President, told Americans that our best days lie ahead. I heard him say it. I was inspired. We all were. We believed him when he told us that it was “morning in America.”

We were wrong. It should have occurred to us — or to me, at least — that if the sentiment needed saying, that it wasn’t something assumed — that there was no assurance at all; that perhaps our best days did NOT lie ahead; indeed, that they were very likely behind us,

America the world’s great democracy, the unique experiment in self-government, has lost its mojo. The nation that conquered the Depression, won the World War, was the “arsenal of democracy,” won the heroic civil rights struggle, defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War — that America, the hope and savior of all humankind, has used up its energy and is today a kind of collapsing, crumbling colloseum.

Stay with me awhile as I demonstrate…

Let us start with the January 6th, 2021 terrorist attack by Trump hordes on the US capitol. A nation is not in its best days when a mob of its citizens violently attack it.

We’ve all seen the videos, heard the shouting, listened to the police officers who were assaulted on that horrible day. It was NOT our best day, and best days are not coming soon because the violence of January 6, 2021 is out there being touted and praised by the supporters thereof.

It is not morning in a nation where roaming mobs of miseducated brats deface statues of our heroes, as happened last summer. Below is a photograph of an ignoramus attacking the statue of Mathhias Baldwin, a Philadelphia Quaker and Abolitionist who paid from his own money to set up a school for Black children 30 years ahead of its time.


So much for what Chuck Berry in 1961 called the “Promised Land,” his song and ours, done back when we all understood that America was the new Canaan, the land of our hopes and struggles to which we all, and our ancestors all, had risked everything to get to.

Destroyed by our own hands, attacked by our own neighbors, insulted and broken by those who hate the nation that not so long ago all had loved.

The music, too, has turned on itself. The music of 1961 — as that, of 1951, 1941, 1931, and also that of 1971 — was enthusiasm, exuberant,  straight-ahead beat, a fast-forward rhythm, a voice of confidence, triumph, joy. It was the sound of victory. It was a battle hymn of the Greatest Generation. Think Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, James Brown, the Kingsmen, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Gary U.S. Bonds. But now ? The hit music of today — hip hop and its variants — has a chunk beat, a square rhythm that encloses the self within it. It’s the sound of a locked door to a very small quarters within which one hides from the world and shrinks from challenge. It is pent-up and sometimes murderous (for real) and always it is sad; its sex is a lot of talk, no action. Even when dancing, it is “dancing in the dark,” as Bruce Springsteen wrote in 1985 and as house music and techno do it.

The America of 1962 to 1969 sent men to the moon. Today we send house prices sky high.

Civil rights activists of 60 years ago dressed in their Sunday best, protested in the daytime., steeled their courage to nonviolence no matter what. Result ? They won the support of almost the entire nation. Today ? Don’t get me started….

The Civil Rights heroes of 1950-65 believed in the dream of America. What do protestors of today believe in ? 

Wage workers in 1961 America had strong unions and got ahead. They could buy a house. What can wage workers do today ? Even when they have a union, house prices have long since lifted way beyond. In 1968 I paid $ 35 a month to rent a two bedroom apartment in Roxbury. Today a two bedroom apartment in East Boston costs $ 2100 to $ 3200 per month. Has my salary increased 80-fold to accommodate this price surge ? Hardly. Has yours ? 

So no; it is NOT “morning in America.” as for our days that lie ahead, they are not our best, not even average. They are sick and getting sicker. I’m not talking the pandemic. We can still conquer viruses, at least those in nature. Computer viruses, it seems — cyber attacks — are beyond us.

We used to be the victor in war. Then came Viet Nam and failure. Ever since, except for the first Gulf War (1190-1991), it has been failure, extended failure followed by ignominious withdrawal, abandonment of allies. We have “the greatest military in  the world'” but no will to use it greatly.

Our democracy — our Constitution and the ideals vowed in the Declaration  — used to be our treasure, our lodestar to which we would all rush. Today we are told — by our educators, and enforced by the corporate elite — that our Constitution is nothing but racism and our Declaration an hypocrisy. is it anyt wonder that 30 percent of the nation feels betrayed and wants nothing but to stab us dead and set up a crooked noisy fascism, or that another large percent want to wipe out our history and equal protection of the laws and all that it implies in favor of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” ?

As for the Ogre, he is still out there, honking his immodest horn. He has his wanna-be’s as well, screeching to seduce our attention like the selfie whores they are.

I fear that I am tempting your patience, dedar reader. Fear not. What more can I add to examples from music, money, the law, the nation, and our courage at home and in war ? We all have our own anecdotes to add here. They add up, however,m to the same thikng : our best days DO NOT lie ahead. Far from it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Americans in 1961 had strong labor unions, could earn fair wages and fight for more. Today ? Unis stNo, it is NOT ‘morning in America.”
No, it is NOT “morning in America.”

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Boston is changing drastically. The Boston we came to be in, back 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, is all but gone. It is becoming a city of highly educated, skills-minded incomers from elsewhere in America. No longer is it the destination of immigrants impoverished and abused, escaping lives barely livable in search of the opportunity and freedom that America offers. That Boston has had its time, served its purpose, just as America, from its beginning served its purpose to immigrants from everywhere.

America is immigrant nation : but as we have seen these past ten years or so, immigrants are no longer the ideal, no longer welcome in the nation their predecessors built.

It isn’t just Boston; it is everywhere in the United States. We see it in assaults against Asian-Americans. We feel it in travel bans. We hear it in the rants of fascist politicians.

The consensus among us, sadly, is that we are full up; that immigration has become a burden, not an opportunity. I happen to disagree completely with this view — to me, immigration is and always will be America — but I recognize that my view is losing custom.

So it is with Boston.

I take you back now to Rome.

Come with me to the ancient city as it changed from the capital of a vast imperial bureaucracy, economy, and learning to the headquarters of an ascendant Christianity. The Rome of 700 A.D. was an entirely different city from Rome in 400 A.D.: different population, different ideals, different elites. Gone were the Senatorial families; gone the libraries; gone the palaces, the marketplaces, the baths, the city prefects. In their place, immigrants from, Greece, pilgrims from the north, refugees from German invaders. Rome in 700 AD was hardly a city at all. it was a last retreat, a Helm’s Deep (to recall The Lord of the Rings movie). It had almost no economy other than what pilgrims visiting Saints’ shrines left as a devotion. The Papal bureaucracy — staffed almost entirely by newcomer families from Greece and beyond — was its only link to a literate, sophisticated past.

It wasn’t really Rome at all.

So it is now with Boston. A city becoming as unlike the Boston we knew as Rome in 700 wasn’t the Rome of 400. Yes, THAT big a change.

What we call the “traditional Bostonian” –working class voters of Irish, Italian, Polish and Jewish origins; many of them city workers; families whose sons became policemen, politicians, and priests — has shrunk in number to less than 20 percent of all voters. For the first time since the 1860s, there is no candidate for Mayor of Irish descent. This should not surprise. The people most confident of tomorrow’s Boston are its recent arrivals : Black citizens, mostly of Caribbean origin; Hispanic voters, the sons and grandsons of immigrants and refugees; highly educated transplants from elsewhere in America, lured here by our educational masterworks, our finance firms, and our hospital employments.

All over Boston these three streams of people have taken command of homes, apartments, turf, shopping tastes, the arts and talk. And of our politics. The politics of the Boston I grew up in were personal and factional. Ideology had very little to do with what we campaigned for. City jobs were a big deal. When I first worked at the School Committee in 15 Beacon Street, the City had 30,000 employees; elections for City of Boston Credit Union board were major campaign efforts. City employees and their extended families made up a good 30 percent of all voters in most city elections. The tradition was that strong. City firemen handed down their jobs to their sons and grandsons; same with the police force. Fire and police were like medieval European guilds.

The descendants of Irish, Italian, Jewish and Polish immigrants dominated every neighborhood except Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the South End and Lower Roxbury, which were the home of Boston’s then smallish African-American citizens. Today, that is all changed. Descendants of Irish immigrants dominate only seaside Dorchester, Charlestown, part of South Boston, and a few portions of West Roxbury and Brighton. The Brahmins who dominated Beacon Hill and Back Bay are almost all gone now. Boston’s African-Americans have mostly moved to the suburbs.

With them have gone the Kennedys. In 2020 a Kennedy lost a Democratic primary race — in Massachusetts !! — for US Senator — lost it by ten points. Unthinkable. I still can’t believe it happened. Well, it di happen. So there’s that.

With the immigrants and the Kennedys have gone incredibly affordable house prices. it is hard to accept that merely 50 years ago, homes in Boston could be bought for $ 20,000 if not less — a whole lot less, in many cases. I was talking to a voter in Roslindale yesterday who recalled 65 years ago paying $ 14,000 for his Garrison-style home, now worth $ 700,000.

With those long-gone house prices has vanished any pretense to a world-class public school system. In 1960, a Boston school teacher earned about $ 5000 a year or less. They were mostly young women pre-marriage or older women after motherhood years. Many were unmarried for life; school kids were their children. Yet these women, underpaid, taught vigorously. They brooked no misbehavior in class; and in this they were firmly backed by their school principal and by the superintendent.

Their students were almost all the children or grandchildren of immigrants. M y Mother and her six siblings — born to an immigrant couple from Ireland and Eastern Europe — were among them. They and their teachers were “the greatest generation.” We should, I hope, remember, as we go about the new Boston, what that greatness was like, even as we tear all of it down to serve the vastly different new.

Today, and probably far into the future, Boston will be something utterly else. it will be a City of transplants from elsewhere in America — and a few from overseas — the highly prosperous and workaholic motivated, skilled to the uttermost, and of managers managing managers who manage the managers of vast pools of money and medical research, of technology labs and glittery retail shops. Supporting this economic meritocracy will be the schools and the politics, the media and the restaurants, the health clinics and the bike repair shops, the sports activists and the arborists, all of whom seek to recreate the environmental idylls they grew up with out there in America’s fly-over country even as they replace my immigrant city with a surfeit of feel good requirements which, if you don’t share them, will cast you as out as the elites of 1950 cast out their black sheep.

TellI hope you, dear reader, are ready for the next Boston. Maybe you will tell us, we who by then will be partying in heaven or getting wasted in hell, what the city of influencer pronouns and climate-justice bicycle veggies is like. Tell us of its music, its movies, its art, if these still exist in a form we can recognize (which I doubt). Myself, I look forward to earing about it even as I worry about my grandkids having to actually live in it.

Please be kind to my grandkids. They were brought up the old ways and will have to undergo loads of mentoring to adjust to your expensively buttered, liberally pronoun’d, smokeless, artificially intelligent version of “Boston.”

Of course it is true that life belongs to the living. Its their environ, not ours. They have to live in it, endure it, spurn it, escape from it, profit in it. I am hoping they will profit and not be profited on. But that we will have to see about.

—- Mi Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^^ the five faces of Mayor : can you be persuaded or is it all about the default spin ?

— — — —

Another way of stating the headline is to ask “do candidates matter ?” Maybe yes, maybe no.

We are living in an age of ideology, where for a critical bloc of voters, the issue is the important thing and never mind, these voters seem to say, the character or qualifications of he or she who advocates that issue. Mr. Trump epitomized this sort of voter mindset. “Yes,” said his supporters, “he’s a bastard, but he is a bastard for us.” Meanwhile, Mr. Biden, for all that nearly everyone recognizes his impeccable character, earns no points thereby among those who backed Mr. Trump.

Myself, I said last year, and still say it : “I’d rather spend four years disagreeing with President Biden than tolerate ten more minutes of Trump.” For me, character matters A LOT.

That’s because as I see it, issues come and go, but the quality of a man is what it is; and quality deals finer with every issue than lack of character with any. A politician sets an example for the nation by who he is, not by what he thinks on this or that issue.

Thus for me, character matters a lot, and whatever I may think on this or that issue, I can be persuaded to change my position by a candidate who makes herself a solid case for a position I did not hold until we discussed.

In other words, I am a persuadable voter. Am I the only one ? I doubt it. I think there are a lot of persuadable voters. The problem is that it takes time to persuade a voter, and most campaigns find themselves unwilling to invest time in doing so. In a Citywide Boston election, there’s likely to be up to 152,000 voters voting. It’s far easier to find the 77,000 (hopefully) who agree with a candidate’s position than the 15,200 or so — rule of thumb says that ten percent of voters can be persuaded — who can be persuaded.

Lesson : Few candidates really care about you or me or our neighbors. They care about majority mathematics.

Ideally, a candidate will work to win a vote one vote at a time — because that is how votes are actually cast : one at a time — but rare indeed is the local campaign in which a candidate actually makes the effort to do that. It’s so much easier, and more efficient, to find out what a polling majority thinks on an issue and go around voicing the majority position in such language as her spin doctors decide the majority will trust. I s it any wonder that voters feel that politicians don’t listen to us ? They don’t.

The individual voter for the most part doesn’t exist and is never campaigned to. That’s especially the case for voters who aren’t selected by a “voter file’ company which selects out voters who aren’t ‘super voters’ or such like. If you’re not a “super voter,” you might as well be deported or dead; the campaign will never mail to you, never phone bank you, never knock on your door.

It’s a vicious circle. You don’t get campaigned to if you aren’t a “super voter,” and not being campaigned to, you are likely to not vote and so become even less “super’ than you were before.

One would like to think that those who run for office actually LIKE people. After all, you’re going to represent people and to work for the betterment of people. Doesn’t it make sense that you should then LIKE people ? Sadly, I have known plenty of candidates who either did NOT like people or did not like campaigning to them. (Worse still are the candidates I have known who didn’t like SOME people, but they are a different case altogether. Let’s leave them aside, which is where they should be.)

Yesterday i chatted with a neighbor, very politically active, who told me of how a candidate he supported was at his house all the time during the campaign, but after the candidate won ? Not a word, not even recognition — a “hi, how are you ?” — when he and the now elected person met at events.

I’d like to think that this is rare, but it isn’t.

Endorsements can be just as worthless. Two days ago an elected in Boston endorsed a Council candidate in language so obviously boiler-plated to him by that candidate’s spin doctors that I belly-laughed — “hey there, ______, you CAN’T be serious !”

Word : if you are going to endorse a candidate, do it in words YOUR OWN, words that can be believed rather than guffawed at.

But of course such default endorsements aren’t intended to persuade. they’re intended to pat the endorser on the back for being “with it.”

This year, the “pat myself on the back” endorsement spin is “equity and inclusion justice.” Or some combination of those trending words. Equity, inclusion, justice. As far as I’m concerned,. when you default to these words you debase them to the level of predictable sand salad. These words used to mean something. Not any more. All they mean now is “hey look at me ! I’m your guy ! See ? I got the lingo, don’t primary me, I’m on your side !”

As for persuasion, you know what gets persuaded by these sorts of campaigns ? That the politicians don’t give two shits about you and don’t even try to pretend that they do.

Guess what a voter who realizes these truths is gonna do ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



It’s not easy to discern who will be Boston’s next Mayor — at least four appear poised to get there — but whoever wins out should strongly consider the agenda I am about to set forth.

There is, first of all, a great deal of bad policy consequences to undo, mistakes that have festered for as long as 50 years and compounded to the point of absurdity. I address these in my list.

There is also a serious call to change direction. The City has, for the past 28 years, since the election of Tom Menino, opened the floodgates of land speculation and luxury housing and has also done away with an elected school committee. Both these decisions must terminate NOW.

And now to my agenda :

Housing — the most mal-administered factor in all of current City government — ( a ) there must be an end to zoning variances except in case of true hardship. Apply the law. No other exceptions. ( b ) prioritize and subsidize the construction of single-family and two-family houses, especially along waterfronts ( c ) admit three-family dwellings where feasible ( d ) plant trees on all residential streets and encourage trees and foliage generally in as much open space as is available and isn’t a ball field or marsh ( e ) no more huge-box apartment blocks (f ) rigorously enforce building codes so that builders cannot cut corners on quality of materials. (Note : These reforms would render moot all of the so-called “affordability” ordinances and regulations that have rendered Boston houses LESS affordable ! )

Public Safety — the very foundation of our having a City at all — : ( 1 ) clear the “methadone mile” and keep it cleared ( 2 ) expand the police force’s gang unit ( 3 ) increase police presence in Downtown, especially late night ( 4 ) appoint Nora Baston the next Commissioner ( 5 ) accept the State’s $ 850,000 crime-fighting grant ( 6 ) expand the youth worker force ( 7 ) support neighborhood crime watch groups ( 8 ) curb the use of so-called “dirt bikes” on City streets by enforcing laws against public nuisance and disturbing the peace; create a specific task force to police these regulations. ( 9 ) support our police men and women — and show it !

Schools : which are crucial to the City retaining families who now move to the suburbs because they have no coinfidence in the school system — ( 1 ) eliminate busing, thereby saving $ 100,000,000 annually ( 2 ) re-establish neighborhood schools and set up parent-teacher associations, which before 1974 were so important to school morale and quality ( 3 ) change the City charter to give us a school committee elected in part — 13 members plus two appointed by the Mayor ( 4 ) toughen the examinations required for students to gain admission to the “exam schools” and allow no dilution thereof [yes, neighborhood the student lives in can be a discretionary factor in admission, as it is for most boarding schools] ( 5 ) do a comprehensive, on-site appraisal of all facility maintenance and upgrade need, including air conditioning an d heating systems, some of which has been undone for 40 years, and allocate the monies to repair all such over a budget cycle of no ore than four years, with deadlines written into the order ( 6 ) consolidate school facilities to account for reduction in student numbers from 92,000 [present capacity ! ] to 54,000, which is the current enrollment; sell off excess buildings and apply the proceeds to the Capital Fund ( 7 ) allow principals to hire (and fire) their entire pedagogic staff ( 8 ) appoint a Superintendent from within the system only

Roads : are for cars and buses. Any other vehicles use the City’s public roadways at their own risk.

City hiring : bring back ;patronage to a degree. A mayor must be able to have her own close people in house to assist her work and to promote her politically.; merit is essential, of course, to technically skilled positions, but much City work isn’t that hard to master. There should never be any stigma attached to one’s acquiring a City job because one worked on a Mayor’s election campaign. If anything, work on the campaign teaches the campaigner a lot about City government that can’t be readily learned any other way. Lastly, patronage hires relieve the present concentration upon ideology, which, since the elimination of patronage, has all but monopolized the political sphere and not in a healthy way.

Fifty years ago Boston had over 30,000 public employees. They and their families, living almost all in one, two and three family houses, constituted a permanent community of interest and neighborhood connection that made the City stable and vibrant. Today much of the Boston voter list is singles living in apartment or condo blocks and high rises barely knowing each other, working in 10,000 different jobs and having no community except the social media-generated ideology of the moment. It is of course their free choice, but I don’t think the current custom is in any way preferable to what was our City.

This is hardly a complete list, but it will do for a start.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere