What Science Tells Us… and Doesn’t


^ conversing with Bill Kristol, Charles Murray explored comprehensively the anomalies in today’s societal structures, but drew conclusions unnecessarily pessimistic. Free will exists, and so does social adaptation

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Much attention is being given these days to three academic thinkers : Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, and Charles Murray. All are social scientists and/or psychologists — students of the brain — much given to biological observations. From these biological observations, they draw conclusions about individual behavior and societal accommodations. All three thinkers point toward so-called traditional arrangements and imperatives and away from the revisionism that has affected both these past 50 years since the individualistic revolution of the 1960s.

To what extent do I support these thinkers’ recommendations ? The answer is that I don’t support them much at all. Where I do support the traditional social arrangements, I don’t need their authority; the arguments for traditional set-ups were all established long ago. More, I disagree that biology has anything to tell us about moral questions. Thus I am unconvinced that its observations dictate society’s duties. Observed phenomena are what they are, and nothing else. Data recorded do give the lie to speculation, but they tell us nothing about what is meant, if anything.

Biology certainly affects medicine. Medical discovery usually can’t take place without a biological record. The same is not true of morals. Even if possession of a y chromosome gives the possessor an advantage in certain physical capabilities — and a concomitant disadvantage in others — that finding tells us nothing about how to value the lives of each, the y chromosome person and the person with only x chromosomes. (I use the chromosome distinction only as an example. There are, for sure, other fundamental biological differences between people we describe as “male” and “female.”)

The relationship between biology and the mind  is a complex one as yet quite unsettled. Why some people identify as female even though possessing biologies that we list as “male,” and vice versa,  we have as yet no good answer for. Self-identifications seem embedded deep in  the brain, well below the cortex, in the brain stem or deeper, in the mimetic mind where music and rhythm arise. They are FELT even when no name can be put on the feeling. Nor is gender feeling the only personality outcome that defies biological explanation. The question then arises,:are identity feelings determined, or are they an exercise of free will ? Free will, as we use the term, has little, if anything to do with biology and not much more to do with social science. Free will, when it occurs, can arise unexpectedly — surprising the person willing it, even. All the anecdotal evidence suggests that identity feelings do not arise willingly; that they are felt to pre-exist; are FOUND OUT by the person finding, the way one stumbles by accident upon a secret that was already there, just not noticed. But if that is so, that identity feelings already existed even before noticed, where in one’s being were they ? To this question, biology has no answer, psychology only a guess.

The biology adept would like to assert that gender feelings are random and groundless; that biology rules, feelings have only subjective presence. On these grounds Peterson and Pinker both object to the political use of identity feelings. Are they right to say so ? That depends on what motives we attribute to their opinion. Myself, I agree, that identity feelings have no political bearing. Whatever civil rights our society accords, it accords to all, equally; the question of who one is does not arise, or should not. Only when people try to make identity an issue and to deny civil rights to certain identities does identity become an issue. Is this what Peterson and Pinker tell us ? I am not sure. I do agree with the two that identity should never become a legitimate basis for differentiating, politically, between people.

Back now to the issue of identity.

It is difficult for modern man, given to answers for everything, to accept, or to agree, that identity feelings are real despite there being no answer to where they are : in the body ? In the brain ? In one’s heart ? Augustine, long ago, wrote that sexual feelings arose in him, all the time, no matter how much he wanted them not to. His response was to will them dormant. Our age takes the opposite tack : admit them and let them be. Each outcome is equally deterministic. We can will these feelings to retreat, but we cannot will them to go away.

I don’t think our current trio of thinkers has gotten much farther than Augustine did. They may not even have gotten as far as he did. He said about evil, why does it exist if God is all powerful, that evil exists because people want to do it. They will it. I think Augustine is right; and his conclusion also dignifies humankind enormously by granting every person the capacity to choose the good. The good — or the bad — are not simply the reflex actions of a biological condition that we cannot do anything about. They are choices that all people can make. Thus Augustine’s “capability to will” becomes a basis for the social and idealistic equality that our Framers wrote into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Our modern thinkers, who assert that biology is destiny, and that different physical sex characteristics are a valid basis of social role assignment, deny the moral basis of political equality.

Charles Murray has advanced the most comprehensive — and insightful — analysis of current social conditions, which he considers broken down and unable to wean an optimally prepared next generation. He considers the two parent family essential and urges that children be born in wedlock, not outside; and that a boy who grows up without a father role model is compromised thereby. I find his view much too lazy. Of course the standard family usually works (but not always!); but so do other family forms. People growing up in single parent homes, or in homes with two fathers or two mothers, don’t just give up; they work around their structure, or they adapt it to make it work. Adults are still role models even if there is only one, or two of the same. And kids want to grow up to be important. Few grow up not caring. Murray mentions finance as a factor, but not in the way that it really is. To him, families at the bottom of the economic scale are denied access to success not by having few funds but by lack of motivation resulting from the overwhelming burdens upon them. So saying, he has it backward. Any divorce lawyer knows that more marriages break up over financial difficulties than for any other reason. lack of finance is a terrible restriction upon lives. Blame becomes the daily yell, the accusation, the poison that splits parents apart and leaves kids in turbulence — never an asset to the acts of will that enable individuals to rise.

Like all the present science-based thinkers, Murray is trapped by the determinism built into scientific observation. Or should I say, he seems deterministic where acts of free will can and do save many the day, and not deterministic enough where basic identity feelings are involved. But while I criticize Murray, I do not puzzle at his outcomes. Human life is a mystery that resists explanation. Augustine and Rabbi Hillel, who gave us the golden rule, and maybe Plato’s Socrates, have come the closest to understanding who we are and what we should do; but even they haven’t the final word. There isn’t one.


—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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^ artist’s view of proposed 107-109 Porter Street 28 unit building (rear and to the right). A ell designed building, to be sure; but maybe too dense of a good thing ?

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As downtown Boston becomes ever more the hub of the new era’s business, enterprise, shopping, social life, and residence, it is not clear what, if anything, will remain, much longer, of neighborhood life as we know it. By no means is the new Boston undesirable. Economic boom is very desirable. Try the opposite, and you’ll soon see why. That said, much that is beneficial to the soul is being lost. Can this tide be turned ?

Nowhere has the new Boston tide flooded more deeply than East Boston. For 70 years, from the Depression years to just recently,  East Boston saw almost no change at all. When my Aunt Elizabeth came back for my Mother’s funeral, in 1969, after living kin Cleveland since 1928, she and I drove around her old neighborhood (Eagle Hill); she recognized every building, and every business. Three generations of East Bostonians grew up in an environ dependably the same. Once Irish and Jewish, Eastie from Day Square to Border Street had become largely Italian, as politicians like Jim Coffey and Manasseh Bradley gave way to Mike LoPresti, Senior, Mario Umana, and George DiLorenzo; but as the names changed, the setting did not; and the setting provided the solid rock upon which ethnic change could proceed without undue conflict.

That profound physical stability, reliant on development plans that took shape in the 1840s and were carried out all the way to 1970 without much alteration, has indelibly marked East Boston people. All the more is it culture shock — personal unease — for “Eastie” residents now to see a century of physical certainty erased by enormous surprises difficult to adjust to. Rooftop assumptions at 35 feet give way to overtopping that interrupts vistas; three decker neighborliness finds itself shouted out by nine to fifteen family, even 25 family, complexity.

Can you blame Eastie people for disliking these immensities that undermine ? I can’t.

One principle worth stating : residential development can NOT sim,ply do as it likes. It MUST enhance a neighborhood, not cancel it. A development that ousts neighborhood character is residential only in the most bald headed sense. Yet much of the central part of East Boston has already seen its character erased by oversize, gargantuan, 100-unit complexes of cheap design, a brutal efficiency, and utter disregard for physical facts. I hope that we’re seeing the last of that phase, but I am not sure better is coming.

On Saturday i attended an abutters’ meeting — according to a procedure required by the Boston Planning and Development Agency — concerning a 28-unit building proposed to occupy 107-109 Porter Street. The site is now a large parking area adjacent to the new Craft Restaurant (where Ecco used to be). Embarc proposes to erect a three story building, with parking underneath, of mostly market-rate rentals, in an area where parking is scarce and residential density is deep.

About 15 people of the Gove Street Citizens Association attended. They were not happy.

Almost all of the Gove Street area — Frankfort, Lubec, Cottage Streets, Gove itsels, Porter Street and upper Orleans, as well as lower Chelsea Street and a few very narrow alleys and courts — was first built up 100 years ago, either of wooden three-deckers or brick, or of four story, direct street-front tenement buildings typical of New York City more than of Boston. parking is scarce, open space even more so, street trees not to be found much. Several multi-story factory buildings, one of them enormously large (156 Porter Street) add even more density. I can’t blame the Gove Street neighbors for not wanting more of this. If the Gove neighborhood (in which my grandparents started their life in America back in 1896) needs any structural change, it needs to be opened up, it needs breathing space, it needs its own greenway.

To sum up : residential neighborhoods of Boston need to be able to continue their character, hopefully even top improve their quality of life.

Everywhere I go In East Boston, people cite over-development as their big issue. I think that what they mean by “over development” is “crap development.” I think East Boston would welcome enhancive developments.

The City needs to get this message.

One way in which the Stater can help is to enable economic development all along the corridor from Needham and Newton to Framingham, and Natick and out to Worcester City. Framingham is now a city, no longer a town, which means a much simpler government for developers to navigate. Governor Baker has instituted non-stop train service from Boston to Worcester; and downtown Worcester is radically re-purposing as an innovation district. Expanding the Boston economic boom westward along the Framingham to Worcester axis might relieve some of the pressure incommoding residential life in the most populous Boston neighborhoods.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


senators after vote

Senators Collins and Manchin (R() do not look happy

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Yesterday the United States Senate failed itself. By not finding an immigration reform that it could support with 60 voters, the men and women of our “greatest deliberative body” walked away from the needs of the nation it is supposed to represent.

Almost 90 percent of the nation’s voters support granting the 1.8 million kids of “DACA” (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) a path to citizenship. If the nation’s legislature cannot enact laws that almost 90 percent of its voters want, it is time to vote that legislature out and vote into it legislators who will enact such a law.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California three months ago suggested a “clean DACA bill” : a simple bill that would establish the rules for that pathway to citizenship, one that involved a wait of five years, payment of taxes, and clean criminal record during the waiting period. Why was such bill not presented for a vote ?

Instead of enacting the law, as our Congress has the power to do, Senators decided to involve Mr. Trump. It proved a fatal mistake. Their offer included granting Mr. Trump’s request for billions of dollars to fund added “border security,” which had nothing to do with the DACA issue at hand. Who among us was surprised that Mr. Trump not only took that offer but added to it additional measures of his own ? Measures that he had to know the offerees could not and would not accept ?

Mr. Trump proceeded to do all in his power to prevent the Senate from enacting a DACA bill other than his. It worked, even if his DACA bill received fewer votes than the Senate’s two versions of its own.

But if the Senate probably would have enacted a DACA bill had not Mr. Trump interfered, that does not excuse the Senate. The Senate does not work for Mr. Trump. It makes laws by its won powers granted it in the Constitution. The Senate had every power to Pass a bill and send it to the House. It failed.

The bill presented by the Senate’s “Compromise Caucus” came the closest. It received 54 Yes votes. Here is a list of the 45 Senators — 3 Democrats and 42 Republicans) who voted no (John McCain did not vote because he is at home trying to defeat the brain cancer that has had him since the middle of last year.)

Enzi and Barrasso (WY) Risch and Crapo (ID) Hoeven (ND) Thune (SD) Fischer and Sasse (NE) Ernst and Grassley (IA) Portman (OH) Toomey (PA) Burr and Tillis (NC) Scott (SC) Perdue (GA) Rubio (FL:) Wicker and Cochran (MS) Shelby (AL) Corker (TN) Cotton and Hutchinson (AR) McConnell and Paul (KY) Young (IN) Cruz and Cornyn (TX); Lankford and Imhofe (OK); Moran and Roberts (KS); Lee and Hatch (UT); Blount (MO); Daines (MT); Cassidy and Kennedy (LA); Johnson (WI): Heller (NV); Sullivan (AK); Capito (WV); Heinrich and Udall (NM); Harris (CA) 

And this is a list of the 54 who voted Yes — 8 Republicans, 2 Independents, and 44 Democrats. We owe them a thank you :

Isakson (GA); Graham (SC); Nelson (FL); Jones (AL); Alexander (TN); Kaine and Warner (VA); Cardin and Van Hollen (MD); Coons and Carper (DE); Casey (PA); Brown (OH); Menendez and Booker (NJ); Gillibrand and Schumer (NY); Warren and Markey (MA); Blumenthal and Murphy (CT); Reed and Whitehouse (RI); Collins and King (ME); Shaheen and Hassan (NH); Sanders and Leahy (VT); Stabenow and Peters (MI); Baldwin (WI); Smith and Klobuchar (MN); Duckworth and Durbin (IL); McCaskill (MO); Rounds (SD); Murkowski (AK); Cantwell and Murray (WA); Wyden and Merkley (OR); Feinstein (CAS): Hirono and Schatz (HI); Flake (AZ); Cortez-Masto (NV); Gardner and Bennett (CO); Manchin (WV); Donnelly (IN); Heitkamp (ND); Tester (MT). 

Where do we go from here ? I don’t know. Mr. Trump wants even legal immigrants gone, especially those from countries where people have dark skin or worship religions other than Christian. He doesn’t care how much suffering he works upon them or how ill his bigotry makes our nation look to the world. The Senate could stop him; but it did not, and from all indications, the House actually agrees with his ugly view of the world and its people.

Dark times lie ahead for the kids of DACA and for our nation, stuck in fear and unable to be itself, its envisioning, its readiness to dream the big dreams that make our nation something special and worth fighting for.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Senator Graham has been an unshakable advocate for immigration reform. Let’s make it happen — and do it now.

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Some of you may not like that we’re willing to compromise on immigration issues.

So let me make one thing immediately clear : our compromise recommendation is not occasioned by the heartless man who occupies the presidency. He can rant however he likes; the more relevant obstacle is anti-immigrant sentiment in the Congress. Immigration reform must get 60 votes in the Senate — to overcome a filibuster — and a majority in the House. Somehow those of us who value immigrants from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe, must find a way to win those votes.

Here is our suggestion :

( 1 ) pathway to citizenship — a term of from five to 12 years, whichever works — for all immigrants brought into the country as children, under age 18 at the time of their entry, no matter how far back in time that entry occurred, provided that said immigrants are free of significant criminal history (motor vehicle violations and drug-use convictions do not count).

( 2 ) automatic citizenship for any immigrant, legal or otherwise, who completes two tours of active combat duty in our armed forces

( 3 ) all persons residing in America under a “temporary protected status” executive order in force as of January 20, 2017, and free of significant criminal history, shall be eligible for “green card” legal permanent residency. Same shall also be eligible to apply for citizenship after five years from the date of the enactment of this legislation.

( 4 ) family reunion immigration shall be limited to spouses and children of such applicants.

( 5 ) “HB-1” special permit visas shall continue.

( 6 ) $ 8 billion shall be set aside, at a rate of $ 1 billion every year for the next eight years, for studying border security measures that may or may not recommend a “wall.” Such measures as are found to be effective shall be authorized and sufficient funds appropriated to enable them.

( 7 ) guest worker visas shall continue, so that farms do not lack for seasonal harvesting workers.

( 8 ) vetting measures in force as of January 20, 2017, for judging visa and refugee applications, shall continue in force. Refugee numbers shall be determined by the President subject to express approval by the State Department, Homeland Security, and the Treasury.

( 9 ) the President shall have full power to institute travel bans from nations of his choosing, but no such ban shall discriminate against a religion, nor shall it go into effect without the express approval of the State Department, Homeland Security, and the Treasury, and any such ban shall be limited to three months only, not to be renewed without good and sufficient evidence provided.

( 10 ) ICE shall retain full power to enforce immigration laws, but in no case shall any ICE agent apprehend any green card holder, “DACA”-eligible person, or persons with a valid pending citizenship application. ICE shall prioritize persons with significant criminal history, or whose involvement with a criminal enterprise poses an immediate threat to the peace and safety of the community in which he or she is present; and ICE shall publish, and make widely known, its enforcement priorities in writing. ICE may hold arrested persons in custody, but in no event shall any person held in custody be denied any rights or privileges accorded other types of Federal prisoners awaiting trial. All persons charged or arrested by ICE shall have full access to legal representation and be accorded all due process rights enumerated in the Constitution. ICE shall in no event arrest or search the effects of any person except in full accord with the rights and sanctions set forth in Amendment Three, Four, Five, Six and Eight to the Constitution.

The above does not read much like  a compromise, but it is one. I am accepting immigration hard-liners limitation of the family reunion program, and I am offering billions of dollars to study and put into effect such border security measures as are deemed useful.

However, in exchange for accepting these two “pillars” of immigration reform, as the hard-liners put it, I endorse significant liberality about who, of all current undocumented, or partially protected, immigrants, will receive more permanent protection. There’s no sense at all in tearing families apart or expelling from the nation people who have played an integral part in our economy and society for what may be decades of years.

Democrats may not like it, but the lead here will come from Republicans. Can enough Republican Senators and Congressmen coalesce around any kind of sensible, workable reform ? Probably not, without a major push from the nation’s major business interests.

That push is likely to be there :

Senators McCain and Coons have introduced a basic immigration bill that meets some of my ten points. There is plenty of public support for the facets of their bill. The business community — often a progressive force in our nation’s governance, and very effective at it — also supports a policy of expanding immigration, not lessening it. How difficult can it be for the nation’s chambers of commerce and major corporations to marshal support for measures that expand the nation’s customer base, encourage the most enterprising of our residents, and stabilize communities where cultural and religious multiplicity are norms ?

Business progressivism has, in state after state, from Indiana to Arkansas to Texas,  turned back much of the recent wave of exclusionary legislation. I see no reason why business progressivism can’t win the day for sensible immigration reform. In any case, it’s a damn well worth making the effort. Now.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


7th Congressional Minority-Majority District

The news was not unexpected — Ayanna Pressley fans have been talking her up for this seat for years — but that it actually happened has stunned the political world. City Councillor Pressley, now in her fifth term, will challenge Congressman Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary.

Can she win it ? can she even make a fight of it ? I’m not confident that she can, but if she does make a fight of it, only one political situation gives her the fuel : identity politics.

Pressley is a woman of color. Mike Capuano is an “old white guy.” That’s your campaign in a nutshell.

This should not be. Campaigns for public office should be about policy and character, effectiveness and, yes, incumbency, because long incumbency gives the office holder major influence. In this situation, both candidates have high character, both are justifiably well liked, and both advocate more or less the same policies, though with different priorities. (Capuano emphasizes labor issues, Pressley new-city business matters.) I doubt that the matter of priority has any bearing on the campaign; but who the two candidates are, matters a lot.

It is NOT just a matter of gender and skin color. What’s really happening here is a major incidence of the Democratic party’s increasing split between those who, on the one hand, prefer to accommodate and work bipartisan, and those who on the other hand, reject all compromises. We saw it in the recent government shut-down, where the no-compromise “base” condemned the 34 Democrats who voted to end the shut-down.

The angry radicalism of Mr. Trump has radicalized both political parties. It has all but killed the Republican party and has now split the opposition party. Anger begets anger, and one is tempted to view Mr. Trump’s angry polarization as a bait to trap the Democratic party into responding to him in kind. So much for “when they go low, we go high.” Yet the Democratic party split has other causes than Mr. Trump’s work. The so-called “meToo” movement has split the party badly, never more so than the political assassination of Senator Al Franken by women Senators led by Kirsten Gillibrand. Opponents of that assassination — and I was one such — decried his being bullied out of The Senate without any sort of due process or ethics hearings. Supporters seem to want accusation to be judge, jury, and executioner and to apply the same level of radicalism to all manner of policy and to the Democratic party as a whole. Thus the primary challenge to Capuano, so identical to primary challenges these past four elections against Republicans in Congress.

In the 7th Congressional District, the break down favors Capuano, but not by much. Pressley’s likely support from radicalized white women — who want Capuano types out,  — and voters of color, who support Pressley for her own accomplishments (which are significant), gives her an upper hand in the Boston wards south of the Harbor (but not in Readville and Fairmount Hill), the District’s Cambridge portion, and a strong showing in Milton and Randolph; whereas Capuano can count on Charlestown, most of East Boston, his home town of Somerville, the Matignon area of Cambridge, Everett, and Chelsea. I suspect that Capuano will do worse in Somerville than he should — the City is now home to many young radicals — but better in Randolph and Chelsea than Pressley would like. The decision may be made in Brighton’s Ward 22, a part of Boston much more traditional in its voting than people realize, with long and broad ties to the accommodationist practice of politics and policy. Much will depend upon turnout, in a primary that Secretary Galvin has brutally scheduled the day after Labor Day.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ what a candidate looks like has nothing to do with selecting him or her

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It’s sad to have to say the next sentence, but to some, the obvious isn’t obvious at all, so here goes :

We at Here and Sphere DO NOT pick our candidates on the basis of their skin color, their gender, or their ancestry.  What matters to is about a candidate is his or her character, diligence, knowledge of the issues, openness to compromise, and likability.

Two nights ago, on twitter, I was critiqued for not insisting that the candidate to support for the State Senate seat just vacated by Linda Dorcena Forry be a “person of color” and, preferably, a woman. The reason given, in  twitter shorthand, by my critic was that the population of Boston is “more than 50 % POC.” To which I responded, “that is irrelevant to a candidacy.”

The population of Boston may be more than 50 percent people of color, or it may not be. Whichever is the case, it has no bearing on who a preferred candidate should be. I know of no particular in which a person of one biological sort is unable to represent people of all sorts of biologies. Being an elected representative isn’t different from being one’s attorney. People do not choose their attorneys for biology but for expertise and skill. But I digress…

The rise of social media and selfie custom has moved people to think that how they look is who they are and that the message is the image. I beg to differ.

How one looks, changes. One’s skin color turns to dust. One’s character and accomplishments, however, only grow stronger. We may look at pictures, but pictures do not vote, do not speak, do not debate and persuade, do not beget children, do not kiss and hug, do not eat or cook, do not write great literature or research into history. Nor do I find much truth in the proposition that I am set back if the person representing me doesn’t “look like me.” What does matter is that that person have similar ideals to mine and has accomplished deeds that give me confidence in his or her future deeds.

We all need to think again, step back from the moment, lift ourselves outside ourselves. Responsible citizenship is N OPT “all about me.” Or, to put it another way, these words of Socrates say what I am am trying to say :

A friend of Socrates, I believe, took a trip through the eastern Mediterranean. When he returned, another friend asked Socrates, what did he learn ?” To which Socrates answered, “Nothing, for he took himself with him.”

The responsible citizen steps outside of him or herself and makes his or her candidate choices from several such outside steps away.

As it happens, I have supported candidates of all manner of look. People from all over the world live in Boston and are citizens here and run for office here, and from them I, like you, select those we appraise as the best. I hope that will always be the case, and that selfie custom will never become anything more than a diversion.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





DACA kids : equity welcomes what “the law” is too rigid to remedy

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Today the Senate will likely vote to end the minority’s filibuster and fund the Federal Government. This is good news but hardly good enough. That supporters of immigration reform thought it smart to “shut down” the Federal government to force a vote on their issue doesn’t promise much progress — just the opposite.

First of all, some explanation : the top immigration priority is protecting the 800,000 or so children and young adults covered by an Executive Order (by former President Obama) entitled”deferred action for childhood arrivals” — what we call “DACA.” 87 percent of voters support granting these residents a pathway to citizenship, or to legal permanent residence, because they were brought to America young and by their parents’ doing and thus cannot be viewed as “illegals.” All equity and justice says that as they know no other country, and have no other home than America, they should be left in place to succeed as Americans.

It should be easy to enact legislation to do just that. So why isn’t it ?

There is only one reason why DACA enabling legislation isn’t the no-brainer it is : the president wants other immigration measures, and he won’;t sign DACA legislation unless he gets them. Those immigration proposals are not easy,. They are controversial. Some are bad, bad policy. A majority opposes them. Thus the impasse over DACA, made acute by DACA advocates insistence on attaching DACA legislation — but not the measures that Mr. Trump says he wants — to a basic government funding bill.

I fully understand the frustration of DACA advocates. A “DACA deal” was all but agreed to, two weeks ago, as the President met with the DACA legislation working group of legislators. Then anti-immigrant supporters intervened. Their basic pitch was, “OK, you want to legalize the DACA 800,000 ? Fine, we’ll give you that, but in exchange you’ll have to throw almost every other sort of immigrant under the bus. No more family re-unification admissions. No more special program Visas. And $ 20 billion to build that ‘wall.'”

It is outrageous for supporters of harsh anti-immigration legislation to hold DACA kids hostage like this. Once the debate on DACA legislation begins in earnest, the following principles must prevail :

( 1 ) no longer can people who are here in the country without documentation  be shamed for “breaking the law.” The law exists for people, not people for the law.

( 2 ) even if undocumented people have “broken a law,” the concept of equity provides a remedy. Equity jurisdiction was invented in our common law in the late 12th Century, by the Church, as a means of providing justice to people for whom the ordinary law had no remedy. Central to equity courts was the INJUNCTION, an order by the Court to stop a defendant from doing something. Injunctions remain central to our system of laws; indeed, they are used all the time to prevent injustices, including Mr. Trump’s “travel ban” orders and overreach by immigration law enforcers. It is expensive to go to court, however, and injunctions are purely passive : they stop but do not authorize. Why can’t the Congress enact the sort of immigrant protections that equity courts prevent officials from violating or suspending ?

( 3 ) the limitations on equitable immigration concepts such as family reunification and special purpose visas amount to nothing more than discrimination against certain origins. If immigrants change the skin color or language make-up of the nation, as they do, so what ? Superficial effects or prior habits readily give way, in America, to our transformative national impetus. I am not afraid of any immigrant of good will, indeed I am thrilled they come here to join our nation’s mission.

Back now to the equity concept.

Equity could always go beyond injunction to authorize; but equity authorizations were case-specific. Only Parliament (or Congress) could enact general legislation. Nonetheless, the principle carries: general legislation to authorize DACA kids is nothing more than 800,000 individual court injunctions — a kind of class action injunction with further orders.

For me, the immigration principle is central to who and what America is. We may be a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of immigrants — the more and more diverse, the better, the more advantageous to our culture of innovation and multiplicity. This is where the concept of equity steps in. Equity is kin to equality, the fundamental rationale for our Declaration of Independence and for our system of universal suffrage voting. Equality assures all of us that no person can lord us; equity guarantees that no law is a closed box. It’s really quite easy to embrace the equity concept of immigration and to free it from the rigidity of “the law” without rendering it lawless.

So let’s do it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Almost immediately upon talking office, Governor Baker submitted legislation to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis. Most of what he asked for was enacted but not all. Medical professionals balked at his proposal for 72 hour involuntary commitment of addicts unable to seek help on their own; this part of Baker’s bill was not adopted.

That was a shame, because the opioid addiction community people whose opinion I asked told me that involuntary commitment — a kind of forced “intervention” — was sometimes necessary. Without it, the most incapacitated addicts were left to their own devices.

That said, the medical community had a point : ample beds were not available for the large numbers of addicts who might end up involuntarily committed. Now, two years later, much progress has been made as to treatment availability. Beds are more readily available, and lists of such bed locations find their way onto social media.

Thus the involuntary commitment feature of baker’s first opioid treatment bill is included in his new proposal. You can read his entire memorandum in support of it here:


For me, an equally significant proposal in Baker’s bill is something badly needed and, at last, supported by Baker: the creation of “recovery coaches” and a commission to establish standards for what ‘recovery coaches” will be asked to do. As Baker’s memorandum puts it,

The bill recognizes the important role that recovery coaches play in successful long-term addiction treatment by creating a commission to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches as an important step toward formalizing the role of recovery coaches in the regimen of long-term addiction treatment.

Even now, years into the opioid crisis, there is still far too little high quality data guiding decision making about the most effective forms of treatment for addiction. To address this gap, the bill creates a commission to review evidence-based treatment approaches to substance use disorders and mental health conditions. The bill directs the commission to produce fmdings in 180 days to help insurers and patients to identifY the most effective addiction and mental health treatments offered across the full range of licensed behavioral health clinician specialties so that each patient can find the specific treatment that best meets the patient’s needs.

Those who have gone through recovery insist that only members of the “recovery community” have the experience to guide addicts into and through successful recovery. I might add that, very probably, only a recovery person will have the full confidence of those who the recovery process seeks to help.

The idea of having “recovery coaches” is not a new one in his debate. Governor Baker has at least one close friend, Jack Kelly of Charlestown, who since the 2014 campaign, in which he provided significant support to Baker — from recovery people as well as Charlestown activists — has been advocating for the recovery-community’s primacy in the battle against opioid addiction. For a while after baker’s victory, it looked as though Kelly’s views — recovery community being the opioid crisis’s primary responders — would become Baker policy. That did not happen. I do not know why, but the likeliest explanation is that the state’s vast medical establishment opposed it. Now, it looks as though Kelly’s view will be adopted, if the legislature agrees to it.

Baker emphasized the role of “recovery coaches” at a recent address he gave to medical professionals at Beverly Hospital. Youcanread the report here : https://www.mass.gov/news/governor-baker-highlights-role-of-recovery-coaches-during-visit-to-beverly-hospital

Baker has had significant success already in the fight against opioid deaths. It is good to see him now doubling down, requesting $ 174 million of state funds to the effort, and making the availability of naxolone more widespread. It is this reporter’s hope that his new legislation will be enacted in full, as it should be;  and it is my hope, on a personal basis as an admirer of Kelly, that he will ask Jack, whom he knows on a first name basis having sought his advice and knowledge regularly — and who, after Mayor Walsh, is perhaps the most widely followed and trusted recovery person in the Boston area’s political community — to establish the standards for recovery coaching and to oversee their coaching work.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ opposing the 238 Webster Street proposal : Casey Silvia speaks; Margaret Farmer waits. Behind them : Scot Krueger

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Last night at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting, a large gathering of residents saw and listened — as at every such meeting — to several proposals for property development. Most fit well within the parameters of what property redesign should look like. One such however, stood out for its utter disregard of every recognized standard : that for 238 Webster Street. This is currently a typical three family, three story wooden dwelling. The developer proposes fourteen units, on four floors.

Let that sink in. 14 units — 28 bedrooms — on a lot that now hosts nine bedrooms in three apartments.

The developer could probably win approval for five units, maybe even six. Parking would be scarce, but the lot includes a large back portion currently vacant. Five or six tenants could park there without jamming up the lot’s open space back yard. That’s the sort of renovation that dominates Webster Street : buildings — mostly Beacon Hill brick style or classic wooden three-deckers; a few freestanding Victorian or Greek Revival “singles” — with one, two, or three to six apartments or condos, some with parking, some not.

It was thus no surprise to see almost unanimous opposition at the meeting to the 238 Webster proposal.

Most of the region’s residents are not lifelong East Bostonians; they’ve come to Jeffries for a reason, and almost all live in buildings renovated or redeveloped. They’re not opposed to development, nor does it discomfort them. I’ve attended maybe 20 Jeffries Point meetings; almost never does a project proposal arouse such absolute disapproval as was shown and spoken last night.

In part that’s because most residential renovators who build in Jeffries Point understand the neighborhood’s well defined character and the expectations that residents have of it. Developers generally do not want to spend time and effort on a proposal that will be voted down at meeting. Indeed, there were three other projects presented,  by Richard Lynds, an East Boston attorney who has deep family roots in the area; who represents many developers; and whose grasp of neighborhood expectations is masterful. All of Lynds’s presentations honored those expectations.

The developer of 238 Webster was not represented by Lynds. I can’t speculate as to why, but the result was clear. 238’s presenting attorney is someone I haven’t seen at these meetings before (I am informed that he is the “backup” for the office he works at, one that represents some East Boston developments) nor did everyone in the room appear familiar with him. This is not to disparage a man who had a job to do and did it as best he could; but he was given a tough hand to play.

Not only is the 238 proposal far out of scale to the neighborhood, it also looked ugly. The artist rendering that we were shown had almost no design to it, just a boxy flat front with a coldly geometrical sloping roof — a very poor excuse for the ornate, subtle, 1880s-ish Mansard roofs common in the Jeffries area, and utterly embarrassed by the fully retained Mnasard design of 228 Webster Street — almost next door — whose renovation was presented — by Lynds — immediately after the 238 Webster show ended.

That “show” was commandeered, with fatal effect, by a trio of Jeffries Points’s most respected activists : Casey Silvia, an attorney who lives on the next street over; Scot Krueger, Webster Street resident whose wife Mary Cole sits on the Jeffries Point board; and Margaret Farmer, who lives on Webster directly across the street from 238 and who, in addition to being a past president of the Jeffries association, ran, in 2017, an impressive first-time campaign for District One’s City Council seat. All three spoke in opposition.

There were very few in the room who did not applaud each’s speech.

The developer would be wise to reduce his aspirations substantially.

I’m not going to guess at the developer’s motives for trying to build 14 units on a three-unit property, nor am I going to assess the wisdom of his thinking he can get any kind of approval for it from the Jeffries Point neighborhood. All I want to say is that Jeffries Point deserves better than this. “The Point” has a clear character that motivates people to move in, to live there, to love the neighborhood and to be pro- active in keeping it a true neighborhood where most people socialize as well as reside. It is an affront to tamper with such neighborhood success, and it is a bad example for development elsewhere in East Boston, a growing ward in which cheap materials, scrawny design, comfortless shapes, cheek-by-jowl density, and starved contours give so many big-numbers buildings a tenement air : sardines packed in throw-away cans. East Boston cannot thrive on throwaway residences. Jeffries Point manages to harmonize density with graciousness. It deserves to have its esthetics respected and regenerated.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





doctor kingIn his glory years, when he was the voice and leader of America’s Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was viewed very unfavorably by most. Today, he holds iconic status, beloved by almost all as THE voice of our nation’s most basic ideal : the equality of all of us.

That ideal is written in the Declaration of Independence, a document much before Dr. King was even born. As the Declaration is itself of an iconic status equal to, or even higher than, that of Dr. King, one might suppose that Dr. King’s importance would step back behind it. Instead, he holds almost equal status with the Declaration : both it and he have national holidays. His national holiday was yesterday.

Why, then, has Dr. King acquired such crucial significance ? That everybody celebrates his birthday holiday, even those who opposed him in life ? Even those who appear to disapprove of much that he achieved and who seek to undo it ?

I think the answer is plain : Dr. King lived the ideals that we try to live but often cannot.

He was what our consciences tell us we should be. He spoke for the ideals that we all profess. His voice and his life are like rescue buoys which we can grab onto and lift ourselves from the muck we live in, the fallings short, the failures we know we tolerate even while knowing that we’re better than that.

To be blunt about it : we know that skin color prejudice is absurd and that we shouldn’t do it. Dr. King spoke eloquently of how our own ideals as a nation and as people require us to do the opposite, and we know that his arguments are right.

We know this because we have already sworn to it. It’s right there in the Declaration. The equality of all of us is also in the Constitution  that we say we love and pledge  fealty to. The Constitution embraces the equality of all even more comprehensively than the Declaration, many of whose signers owned slaves.

But commitment to documents satisfies only our obligation. It does not comfort our consciences. Only a commitment to human beings can do that, and no human being we are nationally familiar with, who is also of our era, exemplifies commitment to the equality of all than Dr. King =– what he said and how he lived, and also the ideals that he died for.

And something else. Dr. King, we know, was a man of color, and we know that our nation has a huge debt to pay to our fellow Americans of color, a debt much larger than apology, deeper than foundations, crueller than disparagement. For almost all of our history as a society, people of color have NOT been accorded the equality we accord to all of us. We know this. We know it is wrong. We know that we are part of the wrong, that we live with it, that its taint is upon every garment we put on and in every meal that we eat; and that its accents every word we speak with the dialect of injustice.

Even those of us who do not harbor skin color disparagements live with them, because they are all around us, we hear them said, or done, every day here and there, and because we cannot often do anything meaningful about it — because we have to swallow it into is as we swallow our tongues — we live with social poison inside us. Thus we c all upon Dr. King’s words and deeds, to antidote the poison and to free us to aspire to what we know we should be. A doctor he really is, with the power to save us.

I speak of course of those of us who are not people of color.

For people of color, Dr. King is a savior too but, for many, he is something more ; a personal example, possibly a family friend, maybe a fraternity brother, a presence in the private lives of thousands, a Moses in an exodus : this last an image he often preached, marches for Civil Rights being in fact an exodus from injustice to a land of law. And more than the law. For those who feel a sharing with him of skin color and its consequences, Dr. King’s exodus is a march from disrespected to respected, from disparagement to dignity.

And why not also for the rest of us ? That is the challenge. To honor Dr. King sincerely is to take that challenge and win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere