bookmark_borderBoston Art Commission meeting 10/13/2020

On Tuesday, October 13, I attended a virtual meeting of the Boston Art Commission. One of the main topics of discussion at the meeting was the Christopher Columbus statue that was barbarically decapitated in June as part of the Black Lives Matter protests. As anyone who reads my blog can probably tell, that is a topic that I’ve been very interested in and passionate about. I learned some new things at the meeting and got an opportunity to share my views about the Columbus statue. 

One thing that I learned is that six works of public art in Boston are currently under review for potential removal, alteration, or addition of interpretive signage. In addition to the Columbus statue and a statue of Abraham Lincoln and a newly freed slave known as the Emancipation Group, the list also includes a statue of military historian Samuel Eliot Morison, the Founder’s Memorial on Boston Common, the Boston Common Tablet, and the Francis Parkman Memorial. The commission already voted unanimously to remove the Emancipation Group because the depiction of the freed slave was deemed to be patronizing. At today’s meeting the commission members discussed logistical details for the removal and storage of that statue. The commission recommends moving the statue to a museum, library, or school, as opposed to a public location. A series of “celebratory” online events involving music and dance are being planned for the days(s) the statue is put into a crate and removed. 

Then the meeting turned to the topic of the Columbus statue. The commission announced that they have received reports from two different conservators about repairing the statue. Both reports agreed that the statue’s head could be reattached, but the repairs would be visible. In terms of preventing future vandalism, the reports concluded that there is no practical way to do this. There are no known materials that can strengthen stone to make it more resistant to damage. Putting a longer pin inside the neck to hold the head in place would make it more difficult to decapitate the statue (the idea of someone deliberately attempting to do this is still incomprehensible to me), but even more damage would result if someone (God forbid) did. And the statue could be coated in a material to protect it from paint and graffiti, but this could change its appearance and might need to be routinely reapplied. As a result, the commission recommended not returning the statue to an outdoor public location once it is repaired. This fits with Mayor Marty Walsh’s recent announcement that the statue is too badly damaged to return to its old location, the waterfront park in the North End known as Christopher Columbus Park, and will instead be relocated to an affordable housing development being constructed by the Knights of Columbus. 

The commission plans to arrange for the construction of a new sculpture to take the place of the Columbus statue in the park. This sculpture will honor the Italian-American community and its subject will be determined with input from that community. Separately, the commission plans to put up a sculpture honoring the Indigenous community in a different location. “Both of these stories deserve to be told and should not by any means be in competition with one another,” Karin Goodfellow, the city’s Director of Public Art, said at the meeting.

Since the brutal beheading, the statue’s pedestal has been left in place, and the commission recommended keeping it there for now and adding interpretive signage. The pedestal is more than just a base for the statue; it is engraved with names of all the people and organizations who worked to commission it and bring it to Boston.

A variety of views were expressed during the public testimony portion of the meeting:

In the anti-Columbus camp, Jean-Luc Pierite of the North American Indian Center of Boston said that he and his organization oppose the maintenance and public display of any statue of Christopher Columbus and proceeded to list a litany of atrocities – mass rapes, drownings, hangings, hunting by dogs, smashing of infants’ heads against rocks – allegedly committed by the Genoese explorer and his associates. “Neither the statue nor the pedestal have any place in the City of Boston,” he said. 

Pierre Belanger of Open Systems complained about the “illegitimate placement” of the statue and the “illegitimate renaming” of the park to Christopher Columbus Park in the first place (it had originally been known simply as Waterfront Park). He even ridiculed the names on the pedestal, calling these individuals “so-called sponsors.”

Rev. Joe Rocha began talking about getting rid of all names of slave owners from the City of Boston, including that of historic meeting house and tourist destination Faneuil Hall. The commissioners pointed out that this topic was outside the scope of the meeting, as the Art Commission does not have any input on the names of public spaces, only the art displayed in them. 

On the other hand, several people spoke out in defense of Columbus, describing the statue as an important symbol for the Italian-American community and expressing dismay that the act of vandalism and the possibility of future vandalism are essentially being allowed to decide the fate of the statue. Importantly, the idea of commissioning a new statue of Columbus to take the place of the old one was proposed by several speakers, something that I did not realize was a possibility but strongly support.

For example, Diane Modica of the Sons and Daughters of Italy accused the Art Commission of being biased towards anti-Columbus groups and failing to reach out to the Italian-American community. She criticized society’s maligning of Columbus and of Italian-Americans in general. “Our position in society has been erased,” she said

The next speaker, Laurie Stivaletta, is the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant who landed at Ellis Island and settled in Boston, and whose name is on the pedestal of the Columbus statue. “I am greatly disappointed that an act of violence on our city could change the fabric of our lives,” she said. She argued that Columbus, although flawed, was not the villain he has recently been portrayed as. She called his 1492 voyage “one of the most significant impact points in our civilization” and added, “no one since has impacted the Americas in the same way.” And she made the excellent point that because of its location on the waterfront, the park is the perfect location for a statue of the great explorer and navigator. 

Harry Johnston, a North End business owner, said that both Bostonians and tourists love the Columbus statue. “You don’t have to be Italian-American to love Christopher Columbus,” he said. “His statue is beautiful, his story is beautiful.” He called whoever vandalized the statue a terrorist and an extortionist and urged the city not to give in, as doing so might encourage the vandal(s) to attack other statues, such as those of George Washington and Sam Adams. He also mentioned the horrific events in Portland in which statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were destroyed. “You don’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said. “What about the diversity of Italian-Americans?”

Nadia DiCarlo said that Columbus symbolizes immigration and the idea of cultures colliding, and that relocating the statue to a location inside a building would simply not be the same. “Not all historical figures were perfect,” she pointed out. 

Commission member Camilo Alvarez called the act of vandalism, although not a good thing, a form of communication. Ekua Holmes, the Vice-Chair of the Art Commission, reassured everyone that no matter what is ultimately decided, the commission does not support brutalizing any work of art. 

It heartened me to hear so many people speaking out in defense of the Columbus statue (the pro-Columbus speakers outnumbered the anti-Columbus speakers by about two to one), and it gave me a sense of hope to learn that although far from a certainty, commissioning a new Columbus statue is at least a possibility. The Boston Art Commission meets once a month, and meetings are open to the public. I will likely attend next month’s meeting as well to keep informed of any new developments.

bookmark_borderPortland’s intolerant “Day of Rage”

On Sunday, the day before Columbus Day, about 300 evil excuses for human beings held what they described as a “Day of Rage” in Portland, Oregon to protest against the Italian explorer. Disgustingly, they tore down statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, fired bullets through the window of a restaurant, and smashed the windows of numerous buildings, including restaurants, a jewelry store, a bank, and a coffee shop. They also attempted to burn down the Oregon Historical Society, breaking windows and throwing flares inside, and stole and damaged a historic quilt made by 15 African-American women to celebrate America’s bicentennial. 

According to CNN, flyers for the Day of Rage warned that photography and videography would not be allowed. Apparently whoever organized this event is unaware that in America, there is this thing called the First Amendment. In addition to providing evidence that the protesters intended to commit criminal actions, it is obnoxious that someone would believe they have the right to tell other people that they are not allowed to take photos or videos in public places.

At least two people have been arrested to far, according to local news station KGW. Brandon Bartells, 38, of Pasco, Washington was charged with first-degree criminal mischief and riot for tearing down the Roosevelt statue. He allegedly chained his van to the statue and used the vehicle to pull it down. Malik Fard Muhamad, 23, of Indiana was charged with first-degree criminal mischief, riot, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He allegedly smashed the windows of the Historical Society and other buildings with a metal baton.

According to journalist Andy Ngo, one of the rioters, Amanda Siebe, is running for Congress. “It was so f***ing wet tonight,” she tweeted. “But still, we brought down 2 statues. It was an amazing thing to see those statues fall!” The prospect that someone who thinks like this and writes publicly in such an unprofessional manner might hold public office is disturbing. 

Ngo also reported that the restaurant that was shot at, Heroes American Cafe, was targeted because it was decorated with photos of first responders.

The City of Portland said that the damage to the statues will cost $30,000 to repair. This is after rioters already destroyed statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and an elk in the same city.

District Attorney Mike Schmidt called this weekend’s vandalism “sickening,” “inexcusable,” and “without purpose and justification.”

I could not agree more. I condemn these destructive actions in the strongest of terms. Contrary to the sentiments expressed by congressional candidate Amanda Siebe, the destruction of statues is the exact opposite of “amazing.” It is repugnant and despicable. The fact that someone would deliberately pull down a beautiful, magnificent piece of art, and then be happy about this accomplishment, is completely incomprehensible. Every time a monument is torn down, my soul feels like it has been stabbed. Every loss of a statue makes the world a worse place. How could someone do such a thing or express joy about it?

It is also completely illogical that supporters of Antifa and Black Lives Matter would have such a thing as a “Day of Rage.” Those who support these movements have absolutely nothing to be angry about. They have gotten their way on everything. All four major sports leagues and countless celebrities vigorously support their movement. Any person or institution that dares to express dissenting views is immediately condemned, boycotted, and/or fired. Members of these movements have already destroyed hundreds upon hundreds of businesses, buildings, and priceless statues, as well as assaulting and killing innocent people. They have succeeded in causing the Confederate States of America and its iconography to be almost completely obliterated from our society, Christopher Columbus to be slandered as a mass murderer and his holiday replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day in many states, and even founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to become controversial.

It is those on the opposite side – those who admire the Confederacy and/or Columbus and/or the founding fathers – who have the right to be enraged. Our statues have been brutally destroyed and our culture and history mercilessly attacked. And now, bizarrely, those who have been trampling on our rights have the audacity to claim to be “enraged” by us, the people on whom they have been trampling. The “Day of Rage” participants and all those who share their beliefs are bullies with no tolerance for any cultures, opinions, or values other than their own. Christopher Columbus is a hero and a cultural symbol to many Italian-Americans, including myself. To hold an event whose sole purpose is to demonstrate rage towards a holiday that celebrates Italian heritage is an act of bigotry. Everyone who participated in this event deserves to be charged with a hate crime. 

bookmark_borderUpdate on Christopher Columbus statue

After being brutally decapitated, Boston’s Christopher Columbus statue will have a new home. On Monday, according to Boston.com, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that Columbus will be moving to an affordable housing development that is being built in the North End by (appropriately) the Knights of Columbus.

“It will be visible for everyone who wants to see it,” said Walsh. “It will still be an important part of the fabric of the neighborhood.”

Ever since the disgraceful act of vandalism took place in June as Black Lives Matter protests were gathering steam around the country, the statue has been in a city storage facility being repaired. Sadly, it will be impossible to completely return the statue to its former condition; the head was broken into multiple pieces and signs of the damage will still be visible even once the pieces are put back together. But once the repairs are complete, the statue will be turned over to the Knights of Columbus for placement in its new home. 

I would have preferred the statue to return to its old home in Christopher Columbus Park. This beautiful park, with a trellis, many types of flowers, and a beautiful view of the ocean, is situated at the edge of the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood. The Columbus statue was a perfect symbol of Italian-American heritage, welcoming visitors to the North End. But at least the statue will still be publicly displayed, just in a less prominent place than before. And, as Frank Mazzaglia, chairman of the Italian American Alliance, pointed out, even supporters of the statue had concerns about returning it to the park because of the likelihood of future vandalism.

Christopher Columbus Park in happier days

“Vandalism and destruction in our neighborhood is never okay,” said Mayor Walsh. But it’s difficult not to see the decision to relocate the statue as contradicting these sentiments. If vandalism is not okay, it shouldn’t be allowed to decide the fate of the statue. If vandalism is not okay, the city should not reward the vandal(s) by giving them what they want, namely the removal of the statue from the park. I am looking forward to going to see Columbus in his new home… but it still does not sit right that the city of Boston essentially gave in to the bullies instead of standing up to them. As a proud Italian-American who loves history, I will no longer feel welcome in the waterfront park knowing that a hateful, intolerant, and despicable bully was allowed to erase my heritage.

bookmark_borderJake Gardner’s life mattered

On May 30 in Omaha, Nebraska, protests took place in response to the death of George Floyd. As often is the case during such protests, property was vandalized, buildings were damaged, and businesses were looted. A confrontation took place between bar owner Jake Gardner and protester James Scurlock, which ended with Gardner shooting and killing Scurlock. District Attorney Don Kleine declined to bring charges against Gardner, explaining that the shooting was self-defense. Naturally, because Gardner was white and Scurlock was black, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement erupted in outrage, assuming that Scurlock must have been an innocent victim and Gardner a murderer. So, a grand jury was convened and special prosecutor Frederick Franklin was appointed to lead the grand jury investigation. On September 15, the grand jury indicted Gardner on charges of manslaughter, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, attempted first-degree assault, and terroristic threats.

On September 19, Gardner died by suicide. A veteran of multiple tours of duty with the Marines, he had recently told local news channel KETV that he was “more anxious now than when I was flying to Iraq.” According to his defense attorney, Stu Dornan, he had received death threats and as a result had hired a bodyguard and had moved to California. Gardner felt that the BLM riots resembled a war zone. According to Dornan, someone shattered the window of the bar with a pole, which Gardner thought was a bullet. As people began climbing through the broken window, Gardner pulled the fire alarm, called police, and went outside. There, in video footage described by District Attorney Kleine, Gardner’s father and several protesters pushed and shoved each other. Someone shouted that Gardner had a gun, causing a group of people to tackle him. He fired two warning shots, but then Scurlock jumped on him, and he fired the fatal shot. 

“The grand jury indictment was a shock to him,” said Dornan. “He was really shook up.” Another attorney for Gardner, Tom Monaghan, said that his client had already been convicted in the court of public opinion, particularly on social media. “We have to stop the lies,” he said. 

Franklin, the special prosecutor, attempted to justify the charges. Gardner was “philosophically opposed” to the protests, Franklin said (as if that is a bad thing). He and other individuals were inside the bar with the lights off during the protests, which Franklin characterized as “set[ting] up an ambush inside his business, waiting on a looter to come in so he could ‘light him up.'” Franklin acknowledged that “vandals and people engaged in destroying did just that” but claimed that “there was not a single attempt to go inside the property.” Video taken by a protester showed the initial confrontation between Gardner and Scurlock and demonstrated that Gardner was the aggressor, Franklin said, without providing details. As far as I am concerned, whenever a confrontation happens between someone who is part of a mob engaged in looting, vandalism, and destruction and someone who is not, the person who is part of the mob is necessarily the aggressor. Even if no one had vandalized Gardner’s business or tackled him, he would still be in the right and Scurlock would be in the wrong. The fact that several people knocked Gardner to the ground for having a gun makes this even more true. Bearing arms is a fundamental right, and it is an act of aggression to physically tackle someone for exercising it. The intolerance, nastiness, and destructiveness demonstrated by supporters of the BLM movement is unacceptable, and I support anyone who has the courage and independence of thought to stand up to these bullies. 

Making things even worse, after causing Gardner’s death with these unjust charges, Franklin insulted him. “I think it’s contrary to the beliefs that I have, for anyone to engage in that sort of conduct,” he said of Gardner’s suicide. “But beyond my personal beliefs, him doing so deprived the community from having this evidence play out at trial.” Franklin also relayed a comment from a friend: “You have two families, devastated by the loss of a son, or brother, or father. But that’s what hate produces.”

This statement is true, but in the opposite way that Franklin and his friend intended. There was nothing hateful about Gardner’s actions. He was simply trying to defend his business, his father, and himself. It is the rioting mobs, who began their senseless destruction shortly after the death of George Floyd and four months later show no signs of stopping, who are truly hateful. Supporting a movement based on the presumption that most people are racists who think that black lives do not matter, smashing and burning property, destroying businesses, verbally and physically accosting innocent people, and bullying into silence anyone who dares to disagree with their opinions… these are all acts of hatred. Assuming because of his race that Gardner was the aggressor, demanding that he be charged, and slandering him on social media, these are acts of hatred as well. So yes, Gardner’s death, tragically, is exactly what hate produces. And even his death wasn’t enough to satisfy the hateful mobs. “People are rejoicing and carrying on and celebrating because another life was lost,” Gardner’s cousin told KETV

To every person who participated in or encouraged destructive riots, to every person who criticized Gardner on social media, to every person who demanded that he face legal action, to every person who presumed his guilt, to every grand juror who voted to indict him, and to special prosecutor Frederick Franklin: Jake Gardner’s blood is on your hands. 

bookmark_borderWhat part of “preserved and protected for all time” do you not understand?

As I wrote about earlier, during this summer of political correctness run amok, the beautiful Confederate carving at Stone Mountain has become a target of anti-Confederate intolerance. Now, a group of politically-correct, intolerant people have formed an organization called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and have presented their demands to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the group in charge of maintaining the mountain and its surrounding park.

For those who have never seen Stone Mountain, it is a huge mountain near Atlanta, Georgia with an enormous image of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson carved into the side for all to see. Near the base of the mountain are various statues, flags, and plaques honoring people from each of the 13 states of the Confederacy. Stone Mountain is, in my opinion, a truly unique, amazing, and awe-inspiring sight.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is demanding that the carving no longer be maintained, that the nearby Confederate flags be removed, that Confederate-related names of streets and buildings in the park be replaced, and that the park focus on themes such as “nature, racial reconciliation and justice.”

One of the co-chairs of the coalition, Ryan Gravel, said, “We don’t believe that taking a piecemeal, token kind of approach to adding little trinkets here and there is going to be good enough to really resolve the history of the mountain and the way that people see it.” Meymoona Freeman, another co-chair, said, “It’s time for transformation, it’s time for healing, and it’s time for progress.” Other members of the coalition stressed the need to make the park “more welcoming.” 

But what exactly needs to be “resolved” about Stone Mountain? The carving is an incredible feat of engineering and art honoring three historical leaders. The fact that some people dislike those historical leaders, and by extension the carving, is not a problem that needs to be solved. Every single thing in the world has people who like it and people who do not like it. No one has the right to demand that everything they do not like be obliterated from the world, particularly when the thing in question is a unique, magnificent, and beautiful landmark that took years of creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work to create. There is nothing hateful or racist about honoring the Confederacy and its leaders. As the Confederate point of view falls further out of favor among the mainstream media, political establishment, and society as a whole, it is even more important that sites like Stone Mountain be preserved. Even if the carving is not actually removed, to cease maintaining it and to get rid of the Confederate flags and street names would be to strip the park of its uniqueness and identity. It would be to make Stone Mountain, and the world, a more bland, homogenous, and character-less place. For those who admire the Confederacy and enjoy this memorial park, getting rid of the Confederate features would be the exact opposite of healing, the exact opposite of progress, and the exact opposite of making the park more welcoming. And to actually destroy the carving would be so unfathomably awful that it hurts to even consider the possibility. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked several geologists for their thoughts on how such a thing could be achieved. Their ideas, which involve explosives, disfigurement, years of dangerous work, and millions of dollars, are sickening when one considers that these measures would be employed with the goal of destroying a priceless work of art.)

The reason the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is not demanding removal outright is that Georgia law currently protects the Confederate memorial carving. This law was enacted as part of a compromise in 2001 when the state legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Georgia state flag. The law reads: “The memorial to the heroes of the Confederate States of America graven upon the face of Stone Mountain shall never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.” The fact that some people are even mentioning the possibility of changing this law demonstrates the intolerance of the politically-correct crowd. What part of “preserved and protected for all time” do they not understand? First, Georgia’s flag was changed, with the assurance that Stone Mountain would remain. Less than 20 years later, those who seek to destroy Confederate history have broken their promise and are trying to get rid of Stone Mountain as well. Attempts at compromise have done nothing to stop the inexorable progression towards a complete erasure of Confederate heritage. There can be no compromise, there can be no moderation, and there can be no “pushing the limits” of the law by ceasing maintenance of the carving and hoping that nature and the elements gradually erode it. Stone Mountain must be preserved and protected for all time, just as the law says. And given that the anti-Confederate bullies have reneged on their part of the compromise, advocating for a return of the old state flag wouldn’t hurt either. 

bookmark_borderMuseum of Fine Arts infiltrated by political correctness

With political correctness taking over the world to an increasing degree, it is not surprising that museums are being affected. Not only is the iconic Theodore Roosevelt statue being removed from the Museum of Natural History in New York, but the Museum of Fine Arts in my hometown of Boston has implemented negative changes in response to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When the MFA re-opens on September 26 after being closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, a magnificent portrait of King George IV will be missing. The portrait, by John Singleton Copley, was removed because, according to the MFA’s director, Matthew Teitelbaum, it was deemed inappropriate to emphasize America’s relationship with Great Britain. Additionally, visitors to the Art of the Americas wing will be greeted by a text on the wall explaining the museum’s efforts to “expand, contextualize, and diversify our holdings, and to consider the objects in our care from new and overlooked perspectives.” The works of art, the text notes, “ironically relied on oppressive economic systems, raising questions about the notions of ‘liberty’ that inspired their makers and patrons.” Portraits of Revolutionary War heroes will get explanatory text noting that they were slaveholders. Paul Revere’s Sons of Liberty bowl will get a text explaining that it is made from silver that was likely mined by slaves and therefore that “the material of the bowl belies the values it stood for.” According to the Boston Globe, these changes are being made so that the museum can be more inclusive and “expand its cultural embrace.”

However, like most actions taken in response to the BLM movement, these changes make the museum less inclusive. A beautiful, glorious painting of King George IV was needlessly removed. The new explanatory texts on various works of art cross the line from being neutral and factual to actually criticizing the art, its creators, and its subjects. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to add text that essentially calls Paul Revere and other leaders from the Revolutionary War era hypocrites. Worse, the museum’s explanatory text not only criticizes individuals from our nation’s history, it criticizes the very ideals upon which our nation was founded. There is no need to contemptuously put the word “liberty” in quotes while pointing out its alleged inconsistency with the economic systems that existed at the time.

Colonial-era American culture deserves to be celebrated just as much as any other culture, and our founding fathers deserve to be celebrated just as much as historical figures from other cultures do. Do the museum’s galleries of African, Asian, and Oceanian art contain explanatory text criticizing these cultures, their values, and their leaders from history? Works of art from all cultures should be accompanied by text that is neutral, factual, and educational, not negative, critical, or pushing any particular ideology.

I suppose I should be grateful that the Museum of Fine Arts did not go further by removing more paintings. But these changes are a step in the wrong direction and are demoralizing and upsetting given the sheer number of changes in this direction that are occurring in the world at the moment. I love art and history, and going to this museum has been one of my favorite outings since I was in preschool. Now I am not sure if I want to go back there ever again. Just another example of the BLM movement’s seeming determination to seek out all of the beautiful and good things in the world and ruin them.

bookmark_borderAttorney General Barr is 100% right on Covid restrictions

Attorney General William Barr recently expressed the same sentiments that I have been writing about for a long time on this blog: that the restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and association that have been implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic are a violation of individual rights.

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Unsurprisingly, various authoritarian politicians and commentators criticized Barr’s remarks.

Joe Biden asked rhetorically, “Did you ever, ever think, any of you that following the recommendations of the scientific community to save your and other peoples’ lives is equivalent to slavery, people being put in chains?” 

Rep. James Clyburn called Barr’s comments “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” and pointed out that “slavery was not about saving lives,” while “this pandemic is a threat to human life.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called Barr’s comments an “obscene comparison” and called Barr “an evil fool.”

Sunny Hostin of The View tweeted, “Statements like these make you realize many in this country know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.”

“If you think that this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history, I’d suggest you read up on the Alien Sedition Acts,” complained historian Jon Meacham. “I’d suggest you talk to the Japanese Americans who were interned during the Second World War. Talk to the victims of Joe McCarthy. Talk to the victims of one of Barr’s predecessors, A. Mitchel Palmer, who led raids in 1919 and 1920 as part of the first Red Scare. And talk to the Black folks who, in my native region, lived under apartheid until about 60 years ago… We’re talking about scientifically uncontroversial public health measures. This is not some ideologically-driven plot on behalf of the public health officials, and the alleged deep state, to change American lives. It’s to try to save American lives because of a global pandemic.”

It is disturbing that so many prominent individuals believe that telling people they cannot leave their homes for any but essential purposes is no big deal. Let’s address their arguments one by one:

First of all, contrary to Clyburn’s and Tribe’s claims, Barr’s comments are neither ridiculous, nor God-awful, nor obscene, and Barr is neither evil nor a fool. Rather, Barr’s comments are correct, and he is a good and intelligent person for making them. It is the criticisms of Barr that are ridiculous, awful, and obscene, and the people defending lockdowns who are evil. As for Clyburn’s allegation that Barr’s comments are “tone-deaf,” I do not understand this criticism. What is relevant is whether the content of a statement is right or wrong, not the tone in which it is expressed. Barr’s statement was right, and desperately needed. Therefore, it was right of him to make it.

Second, there is the argument, made by Biden and Meacham for example, that because stay-at-home orders were “scientifically uncontroversial” and recommended by experts in public health, they do not violate civil liberties. But the fact that something is recommended by the scientific community has nothing to do with whether or not it is an intrusion on civil liberties. One can accept the claim that stay-at-home orders are the best way to slow the spread of the virus while at the same time believing that they are morally wrong. This is because factual claims and moral claims are completely different and independent. Science is a great way of gaining factual knowledge, e.g. how the world works, which things tend to be correlated with each other, which are the best ways of achieving particular outcomes. But science cannot tell us anything about moral right and wrong, e.g. what constitutes justice, which rights people have, whether or not a particular action violates civil liberties. Only philosophy – thinking logically about a topic – can do that.

Similarly, Barr’s critics make the argument that because stay-at-home orders were motivated by the desire to save lives, they do not violate civil liberties. But the motivation of an action has nothing to do with whether or not it violates civil liberties. Clyburn is correct that slavery was not about saving lives, while the pandemic is a threat to human life, and saving lives is the motivation behind the lockdown measures. But this is irrelevant. Meacham may be correct that public health officials are not motivated by any sinister desire to destroy people’s freedoms. But regardless of their motivation, destroying people’s freedoms is what they are doing. Restricting liberty in the way that governors around the country have done during the coronavirus pandemic is morally wrong regardless of its motivation and regardless of how many infections it prevents or lives it saves.

Then there is Hostin’s claim that opponents of stay-at-home orders “know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.” Actually, it is defenders of stay-at-home orders who know nothing about what it means to be oppressed. Remember, we are talking about state and municipal governments telling their citizens that they cannot walk around at parks or beaches, go to church, buy guns (a right explicitly protected by the Constitution), or get together with other people. We are talking about state and municipal governments forcibly closing all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to sports teams to barbershops to book stores to clothing stores. We are talking about governments telling their citizens that even for those few “essential” purposes for which they are allowed to leave their homes, they must do so as seldom as possible and avoid stopping to browse or chat. We are talking about governments requiring their citizens to disclose their recent contacts and whereabouts for contact-tracing purposes. That this is oppression is an understatement. Anyone who cannot see this has no idea what oppression is.

And finally there is Meacham’s list of incidents from history that he claims are worse intrusions on civil liberties than stay-at-home orders. Some of the items on the list are, indeed, violations of civil liberties. But none of them are worse than the restrictions on people’s freedoms that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example, was certainly wrong, but it affected 112,000 people, while the coronavirus restrictions take away the liberty of every single person in America (approximately 320 million people). The Alien and Sedition Acts, McCarthyism, and Palmer’s raids did violate the rights of the individuals targeted, but this is nowhere near as problematic as stripping away freedom of movement from the entire populace. No one would defend Jim Crow laws, but if it’s wrong to force people to use segregated restaurants, stores, and beaches, isn’t it even more wrong to ban people from these places entirely? In scope and scale, in terms of the number of people harmed, the number of rights taken away, and the areas of life affected, none of the historical events mentioned by Barr’s critics matches the wide-ranging deprivation of freedom inflicted by governments in response to the pandemic.

To sum up, the arguments against Barr and in defense of stay-at-home orders are ignorant, illogical, offensive, and wrong. Barr should be commended, not insulted, for speaking out in defense of the Constitution and individual rights. However, there is one respect in which I disagree slightly with Barr’s comments. I would get rid of the “other than slavery” part, because I believe that stay-at-home orders are worse than slavery. Kudos to Attorney General Barr for condemning these restrictions as the egregious violation of civil liberties that they are.

bookmark_borderPennsylvania coronavirus restrictions ruled unconstitutional

In a rare piece of good news in our increasingly conformist and authoritarian world, Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled the state’s coronavirus restrictions unconstitutional. The restrictions, implemented by Governor Tom Wolf, forbade people from leaving their homes or gathering in groups and shut down all “non-life-sustaining” businesses. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included hair salons, horse trainers, drive-in theaters, state legislators, and four Pennsylvania counties. 

“Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” wrote Judge Stickman. “The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms — in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble. There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment. The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures.”

“The court found in all respects that the orders issued by the governor and the secretary of health were unconstitutional,” said Thomas King III, attorney for the plaintiffs, according to ABC6. “What it means is they can’t do it again, and they should not have done it in the past.”

“This ruling stands for the proposition that even in a pandemic, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not forfeit their constitutionally protected rights,” Thomas Breth, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told WTAE.

“It actually brings tears to my eyes,” said Nichole Missino, owner of a barbershop that had been forcibly shut.

On the other hand, proponents of totalitarian policies that prioritize safety over individual rights were not pleased with the ruling. 

“The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for the governor. 

“Anything that limits our ability and the number of tools we have is a challenge to public health,” complained state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

News flash: the fact that many governors did something does not make it right. The fact that something saves lives does not make it right, either. And if respecting individual liberty is a challenge to public health, then so be it. Taking away people’s freedom of speech, privacy, movement, and association is not a tool that anyone should have. 

bookmark_borderConfederate statue removed in Charlottesville, Virginia

Yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, a statue of a Confederate soldier known as “At Ready” was removed from outside the county courthouse. The statue had stood since 1909, but county supervisors voted to get rid of it in August after Governor Ralph Northam signed a law giving local governments the power to more easily get rid of statues.

Disgustingly, crowds of people celebrated this erasure of history by cheering, dancing, and playing music, according to the Washington Post. They voiced their happiness and satisfaction with the removal of the statue and expressed how offensive they found the statue and its pedestal to be. “This is a magnificent moment,” said community organizer Don Gathers. “Now we’re moving the needle in a positive way.” State Delegate Sally Hudson said, “These statues have been haunting the community for decades… Taking down this statue is one step in reclaiming these public spaces.”

Nothing could be further than the truth. As I’ve written numerous times on this blog, the removal of Confederate statues and other Confederate symbols is intolerant and bigoted. This politically correct assault on the Confederacy and its iconography is essentially the winning side of a war beating up on the losing side. The removal of the “At Ready” statue, like all instances in which Confederate statues are taken down, is a mean-spirited act of bullying, and every person who supports it is a bully. It is the furthest thing possible from a magnificent moment, and it is moving the needle in a negative way, not a positive one. As for Hudson’s comments that Confederate statues have been “haunting” the community… speak for yourself. People who like Confederate statues would not characterize themselves as being “haunted” by them. Similarly, the statue’s removal does not reclaim public spaces for everyone. Those who like the statue will now feel less, nor more, welcome in the public space around the courthouse. But as usual, opinions and wishes that do not conform with the current requirements of political correctness are completely disregarded.

One silver lining to this demoralizing moment is that the statue was given to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which is figuring out a plan for a new location. But naturally, even that tiny piece of good news was intolerable to some anti-Confederate bigots. “We feel like it’s just basically toxic waste disposal in another community,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

To call a beautiful statue “toxic waste” is not merely incorrect, but despicable and reprehensible. Schmidt’s comment is beyond disrespectful to the brave soldiers represented by the statue, as well as to the artist who painstakingly sculpted it. Confederate statues belong not only on battlefields, but in front of courthouses, in parks, on city streets, and everywhere. The fact that Schmidt and those who share her views unjustly got their way is bad enough, but for them not to accept even one tiny consolation for their defeated opponents demonstrates the depths of their intolerance. Confederate statues, flags, and names are being removed all across the country, and it’s not okay for the minority of people who like this statue to have a place where they can go to admire it? It is disturbing that such a nasty, thoughtless bully was able to get a job as an associate professor. Jalane Schmidt is a piece of toxic waste who deserves to be fired.

bookmark_borderBig Brother on campus

As colleges and universities attempt to resume in-person learning this fall, they are adopting policies that should be disturbing to anyone who values privacy or individual liberty. Schools have been cracking down on students who gather in groups, with Syracuse University bashing students as “selfish” for attending a party, Ohio State University suspending 228 students for partying, the University of Alabama issuing 639 sanctions, and Northeastern University expelling 11 students and refusing to return their tuition, to give just a few examples.

More disturbingly, many colleges are requiring students and employees to undergo Covid-19 testing as a condition of being on campus. Colby College in Maine, for example, requires students and employees to be tested three times a week, which will eventually go down to twice a week, according to the Washington Post. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires twice a week testing, and Miami University of Ohio also requires tests for students living on campus. At Harvard, students who live on campus must be tested three times per week, employees who have a high degree of contact with students must be tested twice per week, and students who live off campus as well as any employee who works on campus more then 4 hours per week must be tested once per week. The good news is that, according to Harvard’s coronavirus information page, most of the testing will be self-administered, which I believe consists of swabbing the inside of one’s nostrils, but not in the painful and invasive way that is typical when medical professionals administer the test. Regardless of how the testing is conducted, requiring a medical procedure as a condition of employment or attending school is wrong. People have the right to make their own medical decisions, and no one should be required to undergo a test to prove that they are free of a virus.

College students’ privacy rights are also under assault. Harvard’s data collection policies, for example, state that the university will track people’s movements for contact tracing purposes by logging their card swipes and their wifi locations. Worse, Albion College in Michigan is not only requiring students to undergo testing but also requiring them to download an app that Cheryl Chumley of the Washington Times correctly called “a surveillance nightmare.” This app tracks students’ locations in real time and automatically sends an alert to school administrators if they violate safety precautions. One forbidden activity is leaving campus without permission; any contact with the outside world is considered unacceptably risky. In Chumley’s words, these requirements amount to “tracking students, monitoring students’ behaviors, and punishing students, long-distance, without regard for due process or, more figuratively speaking, trial by jury.”

Some people might argue that these testing and tracing requirements do not violate anyone’s rights because no one has to attend or work at any particular institution. If you don’t want to get tested or have your location tracked, just don’t go to one of these schools, the argument goes. The problem with this argument is that if schools and employers are allowed to institute these types of requirements, there is nothing stopping all schools and employers from instituting them. And if all schools and employers require that people give up their privacy and medical freedom in order to take classes or work there, then for all practical purposes, people have no choice but to give up their privacy and medical freedom. In other words, if declining testing or contact tracing means giving up one’s job or one’s chance to attend a prestigious college, that is not true freedom. Thankfully, there are currently still numerous companies and schools that do not require virus testing as a condition of employment (Texas A&M and the University of Florida are two examples), but those that do are setting a disturbing precedent. The more institutions that institute these requirements, the less realistic it becomes to tell people that if they don’t want to be tested or tracked, they can simply choose not to go there. No one should have to choose between their education or job, and their rights to privacy and bodily integrity. Institutions should be prohibited from requiring virus testing or location tracking of their students and employees.