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


all lives matter

^ the two principles are the same, not opposed

— — — —

We’re on the road, my wife and I.

Says she, “I see Black lives matter signs. Where are the all lives matter signs ? Doesn’t everybody matter, Mike ? Every life matters.,”

Why add anything further ? To me, as to her, the question is a simple one. Yet the circumstances afoot in our nation require me to expound upon the obvious.

All lives matter means exactly the same thing as Black lives matter. Black lives might not matter if all lives did not matter, and if Black lives did not matter, there could not be all lives mattering. Thus the limited principle is subsumed in the general.

Yet here we have the sentence “Black lives matter” presented as if separate from its wider principle.

From day one,  the cry “black lives matter” demands separation — even elevation : that Black lives are somehow special, problems of which are to be attended to more than the difficulties in other lives — whence has flowed all manner of trouble.

America’s equality principle, sanctioned in several Constitutional Amendments and in almost all of our Laws, recognizes no degrees of mattering: everyone is equally crucial to the working of our republic. We detour from this equality at our peril.

There do exist, as we all painfully know, several paths on which citizens with darker skin are denied the equality our laws mete to all of us. True, sadly, even after the winning of a horrible Civil war and the passage of the 14th Amendment, above all, and of several strong Civil Rights Acts, in 1867-75 and 1964-65.

I have written about them — the various interlockings of prejudice in housing, social interaction, incomes, wealth accumulation, and justice. You may read what I have written in my “Systemic Racism : Does It Exist” piece,  here :

I am not going to restate any of that in this column. I am going rather to focus on the all lives matter principle in two settings : the Constitution and the street.

The Constitutional principle, I have already discussed. Whatever purpose “Black lives matter” may serve as a political campaign, its parent principle, “all lives matter,” cannot be hurt.

Now to the street.

Every pavement action done pursuant to  “Black lives matter” derives from the separation inherent in the phrase. There is no escape from the consequences of that separation, and in fact most “Black lives matter’ activists have pursued separation as an end in itself. Those who do not fall into line are “canceled,” or branded an enemy, or assaulted; and why not ? If “Black lives matter” is special, then those who reject separation are as abased as the special-ists are rasied up..

The police are an easy target. Much of the unfairness, as we see it, is done by police forces — witness the murder of George Floyd, of Philando Castile, of Tamir Rice, of Walter Scott and more. To protest which, the “black lives matter” flag assaults police, harasses them, calls to defund them, and worse. That police forces defend communities, protect lives and property, and are trusted by more people than almost any other institution, is irrelevant here. Because “black lives matter’ is special, if police stand in the way of special, then go get ’em. Police lives ? Evidently they don’t matter, or as much, in a dynamic in which “all lives matter” is the adversary.

Eventually, as we see, all white people become the enemy, particularly to white people doing “Black lives matter.”

The video clips tell a disgusting story — yelling, lecturing, condescending, and worse, much of it by white people in the faces of black police and elders — of what befalls when separation drives the action. Nor need I more than merely note that much of this street anarchy is done by kids radicalized at college, or on the internet, many of them, veterans of two Bernie Sanders campaigns, or even of antifa (and in some cases, provocateurs of the fringe right), pursuing an explicitly socialist, anti-democratic, Maoist motor.

This is all so needless, because the vast majority of indignities (and worse) sustained by Black Americans are not police shootings but economic denials, social exclusions, housing segregation, avoidance. Thus the phrase “Black lives matter”: might better be worded “Black people matter.”

Is there anyone who disagrees ?

That is the problem. The protesters do not march for an ideal that no one disagrees with, they do so for matters that involve controversy.

This is why the “Black lives matter’ argument, when separated from all lives matter, is inconsistent with itself. Do the lives of Black police matter ? Black business owners ? I wonder if they do. As the vast majority of the street vandals are white, I have my doubts that they care about ANY Black lives rather than their own intoxication with violence and abuse, each of which can become very, very ecstatic as if an ayml nitrate high. High on controversy.

The man protesting in the above photo seeks to unite us, not divide us. What good is it to divide us ? What is achieved by it ?

Will the actual inequalities and distortions in the social fabric that absolutely impact many Black people (as I discuss in my “Systemic Racism” piece) be ameliorated in this phase ? I doubt it . Untangling the distortions will be the work of decades if not longer, and defacing monuments does nothing except give overtime pay to clean-up crews.  We live in a universal suffrage system. Every person has a vote. If you cannot persuade a working majority to vote for this reform or that one, well, you either accept the result or become a revolutionary and lose everything.

—- —-

What of the organization named Black Lives Matter ? Apart from  the phrase, about which no one disagrees ? It has many objectives which have nothing to do with the ideal. You may like socialism; I don’t. You may dislike Israel; I like Israel. What these issues have to do with equality and justice for Black people, I do not know. They’re distractions at best, although they appear to have marshaled much of the Bernie Sanders following — the Democratic Socialists and Justice Democrats — as we can tell, because the Black Lives Matter riots and “peaceful” protests do not look ad hoc, they appear the co-ordinated result of years of planning, campaigning, and communication. Nor do the mattering of black lives appear to be the actual goal of these well-regulated militias. The actual goal appears to be the end of capitalism, police forces, the First Amendment, equality itself, not to mention struggle sessions, re-education camps, and apology tours — very explicitly Maoist — in which they, the militias, dominate and intimidate everyone in the usual totalitarian manner.

No thank you.

THIS is why the movement hates “all lives matter” above all, no matter that their ostensible agenda requires it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




You’ve surely heard the noise coming from some mouths lately, that Boston should cut its Police Department budget in order to fund increased social services.  In response, Mayor Walsh has presented a $ 12,000,000 slash in the City’s Police overtime account in order to fund these:

  • $3 million for the BPHC to begin implementing the eight strategies that Walsh outlined in his declaration
  • $1 million to support trauma teams and counseling services at the BPHC
  • $2 million in new funding for community-based programs, such as violence intervention grants, youth programming, language and food access, Immigrant Advancement, the Age Strong Commission and the Human Rights Commission
  • $2 million for additional public mental health services through a partnership between the Boston Police Department and Boston Medical Center Emergency Services Program or BEST
  • $2 million to support economic development initiatives to support minority and women owned businesses
  • $2 million to provide additional housing supports and youth homelessness programs

We have no objection to these initiatives. A City ought, from time to time, to fund new initiatives, or increase current ones, as needs arise, as in dynamic cities they usually do. We don’t even mind a proposal made by (according to “Activists (who) are pushing for a 10% cut to the police budget to be put toward housing, food access, COVID-19 relief and other programs to aid communities of color…Several advocates at Monday’s hearing also called for councilors to pass the current budget to secure funding for immigration, housing, food and park programs.”

The COVID-19 crisis has seriously impacted the City’s more vulnerable residents, disproportionately people of color as well as nearly everyone who earns low income.  City government would be derelict not to address these emergency conditions that have occurred through nobody’s fault.

Where we object is that the Boston Police Budget is not the correct account to cut. Walsh has recommended adoption of a Boston Public Schools budget of $1.26 billion, representing an $80 million or 7% increase over last year’s budget, marking the largest proposed BPS budget in the city’s history.

I’ve written about the City’s vastly bloated schools account many times. It represents FORTY PERCENT of the entire City Budget, and its sub-accounts are stuffed with unnecessary appropriations — starting with the $ 106,000,000 to be spent busing kids all over the City obedient to a Federal Court order now 46 years old and which bears zero relevance to the City as it is today. Imagine how many social services Boston could pay for if that $ 106 million were not wasted on an  historical re-enactment.

Add to this another $ 16,000,000 or so of maintenance costs to keep the City’s aged, environmentally archaeological school buildings, which should have been upgraded 25 years ago; or the several million the Schools Department had to pay to the IRS in fines for mishandling its tax reports (to say nothing of misappropriations); or the money wasted by former Superintendent Tommy Chang on an internal reforms study, by consultants, that never went anywhere.

Boston’s Schools Department continues to maintain 92,000 seats even though only about 55,000 students attend. The utilities costs resulting from such unused capacity contribute another $ 5,000,000 or so in funds that could be used to fund The Council’s social services desires.

To recap : Public education spending remains over 40% of the City budget. Education spending is up over $440 million on an annual basis since FY14 and per-pupil spending at BPS will approach $22,000, more than a 30% increase over the past six years.

Is it not time to rein in BPS’s financial gluttony rather than cut Police funding simply because the cry of the moment on cable news, and among activists with an agenda you wouldn’t like if you knew what it actually is, is that the Police are all potential Derek Chauvins ?

Give me a break.

Boston’s Police are, if anything, under-funded, the Department understaffed. We need at least an additional; 500 line officers. The Department’s inadequacy was made painfully clear by its being outmanned (and outgunned) during the night of looting we endured two weeks ago. But this is an issue for another, saner, more realistic day. Right now, we would do well to boost the presence of social services on the streets of Boston. just don’t do it by cutting the wrong City account.,

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


hawthorne 2


Growing up in Salem, Massachusetts, as I did, long ago, and being of a literary cast of mind from an early age, my interest turned inevitably to Hawthorne, my fellow Salemite, author of The Scarlet Letter and several short stories not to be passed over. Today, surrounded as I am by mobs full of passionate intensity, I am drawn back to the author whose message influenced my ethics as profoundly as any I have ever encountered. If you have read “Endicott and the Red Cross,” or “Young Goodman Brown,” and of course The Scarlet Letter, you can well discern what that message is that has so taken hold of my conscience. Let me set the question aside for a bit and move to another time and place, to the mind of yet another thinker who has affected my ethics beyond measure…

…on many an evening during the late 1570s, and into the 1580s, a vintner of Portuguese ancestry sat in the library of his Perigord estate, in the South of France, and, with his vast library (over 1100 books) at hand, wrote what he called “essays” (“attempt” in French) in which he attempted to understand all about himself. He was particularly drawn to matters of judgment : of passing verdict upon the acts and thoughts of his fellows, and of himself. Michel de Montaigne — that was his name — came to believe that all human judgments were vain, that truth is the possession of no one, that that which is on top today will be on bottom tomorrow, that the only difference between a truth and an irrelevance is the support, or lack of, given by people. In “Of Coaches,” “On Some Verses of Virgil,” “Of Vanity” and “Of the Resemblance of Sons to Their Fathers” Montaigne concluded that the wars of religion going on all around him — the Huguenots versus the League of Guise, with the King shrinking off to one side, trying not to get plowed — could only be ended by an individual act of personal conscience, to opt out, to create in his own home a place of peace, of non-judgment, of no weapons and no death, no persecutions, no armies of truth.

Such was his success that even today we read Montaigne’s essays, and often we find them a guide for our own ethical deciding. And make no mistake : no society can be roiled by armies of truth without having to come to terms with what is the good, what is the righteous, for one’s own piece of this life. It is a shame, perhaps, that our lives must be barred, like a highway being worked, by armies of absolute truth, but shame or not, when those armies block one’s path, one has to take their measure. There are no detours. When one is assaulted, sworn at, plundered and disturbed, one might want to ask, why is this happening here and now ? That, my readers, is a complex question with some not very edifying answers. I have no intention in this brief column of analyzing the causes — although vast deconstructions in the world of education play an outsized role — but the results, we know, just as Michel de Montaigne saw, heard, and felt the guns and battle cries of armies campaigning practically outside his castle doors. And as I have pointed out, his greatest “essays” sought answers to that same question that we face today : what moves the minds of men to battle and kill one another over doctrines unprovable and in any case un-useful ? Where the presumption ? To what end the certainty ?

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great works ask the same question : where does any man get the right to judge other people ? To brand them ? To rip their flags ? Are we not all equally to be judged by God — if a god exists — the only authority so granted ? Hawthorne hated intolerance with a personal animus. His own ancestor, John Hathorne, had sat as a Judged in the Witchcraft trials of 1692 that ever since — and certainly still in Hawthorne’s day — have tainted the consciences of Salemites and others with a shame appropriate to the sin of truth assumption. Thus Hester Prynne goes forth with Pastor Dimmesdale and their child, to a new life and righteous. Thus Endicott, after defacing the Red Cross flag of Salem, despite the calm advice of Roger Williams, shocks the attending populace against his cause. And thus Young Goodman Brown, called to the forest on a moonless night, sees all of his neighbors, so morally superior and tsk-tsk-ing by day in all their depravity under shroud of dark.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Lincoln, on April 1, 1865, to the freed slaves of Richmond, Virginia, who knelt to praise him : “do not kneel to me. Kneel only to God.”


A post on facebook says that 7,000 people have signed a petition to remove the sculpture by which Boston has, since 1876, memorialized the visit by President Lincoln to the city of Richmond, Virginia, after its capture in the Civil War, and specifically the moment when he was greeted by the City’s freed slaves, who, so the telling has it, knelt at his feet to praise him. He turned to them and said, “do not kneel to me. Kneel only to God.”

Ten days after that visit, Lincoln was assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer.

It is sad that, at this time when black lives matter supporters are asking that the Civil Rights successes of my generation be supplemented by full social respect and dignity for Black Americans, that 7,000 people can be found to wish the Richmond visit of Lincoln, and his message of uplift, be removed. Against this expression of reluctance to pursue full respect and equality, and against President Lincoln’s great labors” (as the plaque on the sculpture puts it), I would now quote from the speech that Frederick Douglass himself gave at the sculpture’s first unveiling, in Washington DC, before its move to Boston, where Abolition bore its first fruits :

“…The sentiment that brings us here to-day (spoke Douglass) is one of the noblest that can stir and thrill the human heart. It has crowned and made glorious the high places of all civilized nations with the grandest and most enduring works of art, designed to illustrate the characters and perpetuate the memories of great public men. It is the sentiment which from year to year adorns with fragrant and beautiful flowers the graves of our loyal, brave, and patriotic soldiers who fell in defence of the Union and liberty. It is the sentiment of gratitude and appreciation, which often, in presence of many who hear me, has filled yonder heights of Arlington with the eloquence of eulogy and the sublime enthusiasm of poetry and song; a sentiment which can never die while the Republic lives.

“For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship, and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first time that, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honor to an American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice; let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it;

“let those who despise us, not less than those who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of liberty, loyalty, and gratitude, let it be known everywhere, and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that, in the presence and with the approval of the members of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment of the country; in presence of the Supreme Court and Chief-Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow;

“in the presence and under the steady eye of the honored and trusted President of the United States, with the members of his wise and patriotic Cabinet, we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of after-coming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States…”

When Douglass spoke these words and many more — orations were often long, long, long in those days — the Civil War was barely eleven years gone; and the assassination of Lincoln was still fresh in everybody’s minds. In some respect the War itself was not yet over : for Federal troops still occupied South Carolina and Louisiana (and would not be removed until the end of the following year). Thus the Emancipation sculpture was not erected and dedicated as a memorial of bygones ; it was an act of protest (“agitation,” Douglass called it) against the continuation of secession hostility and was also — maybe even more importantly — a gauntlet thrown down to those who might oppose the great Civil Rights Acts of 1867 and 1875, the print still not dry upon the latter.

I would appeal now to the hearts of those who oppose this sculpture and all of its spirit of freedom and dignity for black Americans, to loosen their consciences and see that there is no longer any case for setting aside, or delaying, the deepest aspirations of Black Americans for full respect socially and as neighbors, friends, family and citizens.

A friend has suggested that we might erect a plaque on the sculpture’s base, explaining its significance — which was clear to the men of 1876 but maybe not clear 144 years later — and maybe quoting from Douglass’s speech. I second my friend’s suggestion. Let us march forward together in  the spirit of ultimate emancipation, so that President Lincoln can truly, finally, rest from his labors and so that the confidence expressed by Frederick Douglass on the original unveiling day be our guide.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere