“I had a dream that I was awake and woke to find myself asleep.” The quote and the mordantly upended universe of which it speaks is attributed to Stan Laurel of Laurel&Hardy fame. And in light of — or, actually, in the darkness of —  the current state of American affairs, I would like to find the person most proximate to blameworthiness and say, in tribute to Stan Laurel’s comedic other half ,Oliver Hardy, “here’s another fine mess you gotten us into.”

I hope I  have that quote right. I know I don’t have “woke” right, that etymological denotation for all who are cool and socially aware in our contemporary world. It is both broad and long when it comes to being defined, but it hangs like a name plate around  many necks in the mug shots of the usual suspects in the culture wars. I’ll understand better when I wake up “woke” , though, given the state of things, I may wish I were asleep.  (Or should that be “was”. A “woke” person, knowing all things, would know.)



Don’t take it from me. Imagine it coming from the bronze lips of Lincoln or Jefferson before they bite the dust. Or from Jesus, Mary or Joseph whose stained-glass images may soon be taking a rock. Here’s what I think they’d say: Some monuments and memorials could come down by public consensus, even plebiscite, not the anarchic whim of a midnight mob.
Take, for instance, Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest — early Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard believed responsible for the massacre of 300 black soldiers. An equestrian monument to “The Wizard of the Saddle” rears up on the fringes of Nashville. I feel sorry for the horse. Nashville being The Music City, why not replace The General with a bronze likeness of Charlie Pride, trailblazing African-American country singer? Charlie, still alive, could attend the dedication. By God, I think I’ll suggest that! But, speaking of God, I’m reading that the “cancel culture” may be coming for The Holy Family. Read the following: “I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been…. All murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form of white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.” So – picture the Pieta and the windows of Chartres, broken on the pavement. Those words were written by Shaun King, civil rights activist, co-founder of the Real Justice PAC, writer-in-residence at the Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project with over a million followers on Twitter, which is where he disseminated this specimen of radical historical ignorance. The Catholic Church and all Christian churches have always encouraged local cultures to depict Jesus, Mary and Joseph in culturally relatable images, including portraying them as Black, Asian, Native American and, yes, even White. Consider that Shaun King actually founded an Atlanta church, called the Courageous Church. (I note he shares my son’s birthday and, going on 41, is a mere two years older than him, but not, from the evidence, wiser than him.) So this is where we are in this rampage of historical revisionism. Statues of Spanish Franciscan Junipero Serra, founder of nine 18th Century California missions, canonized a saint in 2015, have been toppled, decapitated or otherwise removed from the canons of purity by the marshals of the cultural revolution. In the early 19th century, nativists from Philadelphia to Boston attacked or burned Catholic churches and convents. As Bob Dylan sang, “it ain’t dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Bob, Thomas, Abe – Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Save us!




Speak truth to power. It is the phrase, apparently Quaker in origin, written on our hearts, scrawled on placards in our contemporary world – the battle cry, if you will, of the non-violent as they battle the forces of mendacity, especially, it seems, on matters of race and racism. Question, probe, pray, speak quietly or forcefully in its face, but never be cowed by that power that oppresses you when truth is at stake. But, sorry, there seems to be an exception here. NEVER, ever, question, or even seem to waffle on repeating or reporting the received narrative of sensitive contemporary events, especially regarding alleged racism, as handed down on marble tablets from the government, the media, the culture at large – and especially, at this tender moment, on such terribly sensitive matters as the violent death of George Floyd at the hands of a cop. I made a point of treading lightly as a news reporter in such areas – both out of sensitivity and, yes, because I didn’t want to stray from that “received popular narrative.” You think I’m crazy? But former MIT Chaplain Dan Maloney lost his job last week for straying, almost certainly inadvertently, from the popular narrative. Though I don’t know him, Fr. Maloney strikes me as a man of the lightest tread – non-violent and non-political in every respect. Just a quiet shepherd of souls at an institution where brilliant future scientists and engineers nonetheless go looking for eternal gospel truth. And Fr. Maloney is passionately convinced of God’s mercy and has written a book on the subject. Separated from his MIT flock by the pandemic, he therefore, expressed his anguished reaction to events in Minneapolis in an email to that flock, gob-smacked, no doubt, to find that he’d offended powers in the university, certain students who reported him to MIT’s Anti-Bias Response Team, even his own Boston Catholic Archdiocese which promptly fired him from his chaplaincy. Here is part of what he had to say in his email: “The police officer who knelt on (George Floyd’s) neck until he died acted wrongly. I do not know what he was thinking. The charges filed against him allege dangerous negligence, but say nothing about his state of mind. He might have killed George Floyd intentionally, or not. He hasn’t told us. But he showed disregard for his life, and we cannot accept that in our law enforcement officers. It is right that he has been arrested and will be prosecuted.” Anything controversial there? (I’d like to link you to his entire statement, which I’ve read, but which I can’t seem to re-locate again. Please search on-line and evaluate it yourself.) Frankly, where Fr. Maloney probably got into deepest water was where, at another point, he noted that Floyd “had not lived a virtuous life” and that police “deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them.” But he did not suggest that Floyd was irredeemable or guilty or his drug-involvement exculpatory of the cop’s actions – only that George wasn’t perfect, like you or me. Good priests have a tendency to point out things like that and humbly include themselves among the sinful. On the matter of racism, Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture. Org has noted, “The chaplain didn’t say that Floyd’s death was NOT prompted by racism. He simply remarked that the evidence is not conclusive. For that he was banished from campus. For that he was given a public reprimand by his own archdiocese, which announced to the world that his statements ‘were wrong.’” I, like Phil, found statements that were debatable, some with which you may disagree, some that are not well-explained – but nothing truly wrong, offensive or, most especially, in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (For my part, it’s occurred to me – and perhaps to you – that this “bad” cop didn’t care about Floyd’s race, that he was a bad, violent cop to all, regardless of race, creed or place of national origin. It might even have been a personal vendetta. But, you see, none of that would fit the “popular narrative” of systemic racism, though it would be telling the whole truth, if it were true. There is much we don’t know yet.) I have an image of Fr Maloney as a priest eager to understand how one man could do this to another, conscious of God’s mercy as it touches on the sins of racism, prejudice, injustice and on judgement, redemption, crime, punishment and salvation – a man who acts “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), gently going about administering the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to us sinners. But now he’s out of a job. Where are you, Fr. Maloney. I think I’d like to go to Confession.


My former colleague Garry Gillis upbraided me over the weekend for reimagining our post-Minneapolis morass as a nightmare of drunken debauchery supplanting MLK’s halcyon dream of racial justice and harmony. (Thanks for commenting, Garry.) His salient points were: the protests were mostly peaceful; the whole bash was “an awakening,” not a nightmare; MLK reminded us justice delayed is justice denied. “Shall we ask people,” Garry said, “to wait so you can sleep better?” Ouch! A little rebuke there. Well, Garry “the delirium of the brave” of which Yeats sweetly sang, can, in its lower avatars, become the dementia of thugs and vandals. It was a work of kindness, therefore, to make believe this horror was the work of innocent drunks busting up a saloon. Surely there were silver threads among the burlap. Peaceful protester don’t kill, loot, burn and vandalizes. Mobs will be mobs, of course. A small facsimile of a riot breaks out every time the Sox win the Pennant. But “As for the destruction and looting,” Garry went on,” you are no doubt aware that a portion of that violence and destruction and looting was fomented by individuals and groups on the far right.” I confess I wasn’t aware of that. I must have slacked off channel surfing as the news grew unbearable. (Keep in mind Garry said a “portion” – and the far-right, like the poor, we will always have with us. Like the far-left). Garry sent me video and news copy as purported evidence of alleged mischief. I found it persuasive enough of alt-right small ball. Could this, then, explain the defacing of – of all things — the world famous Augustus St. Gauden’s bronze relief across from the Mass State House? It honors the Civil War heroic sacrifice of Robert Gould Shaw and the all-black Mass 54th Regiment and its deadly 1863 storming of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. It is among the greatest African American monuments on the planet. Scrawled over the Common side was BLACK LIVES MATTER, KILL THE POLICE PIGS, NO JUSTICE NO PEACE and a couple of “F*CKs for good measure. Was this the work of Right-wing pretenders? Of ANTIFA, those anti-fascist fascists? Or punk philistines with spray paint? Who knows? In all, nineteen Boston Common and Public Garden monuments, including the 911 memorial, were defaced during a Sunday, May 31st peaceful march and protest that was followed by a night rampage. The jerks stick around or come out at night? I have no doubt somewhere in that maelstrom were those Garry identifies as “taking a stand against oppression.” (Too often, we’ll remember a kid with an armful of pilfered merchandise stepping gleefully out a broken store window and have trouble imagining him or her or any of that rabble as “oppressed.” But, no, they’re not the whole story. )
Among the newly “oppressed” — pity poor Liz Vizza, director of Friends of the Public Garden (and, incidentally) among those who believe there are too many “dead white men” in Boston parks. (I was relieved to learn she was talking about statues.) This very “woke” individual woke June 1st to find her Beacon Street office windows shattered even as she was learning of the rest of the monumental destruction. Ironically, just two weeks ago, nearly $3 million was designated to restore the St. Gaudens bronze treasure. The night mob claiming to defend human dignity did its dirty work on the 123 anniversary of its dedication.
So — what’s next? I was chagrined to read that Garry is among those who believe the French, Russian and American Revolutions, without distinction, “were all responses to taxation without representation.” Leaving aside for a minute our raucous but just revolt against British tyranny that shouldn’t be mentioned on the same breath with the execrable French Reign of Terror, the vermin spawned by the revolutionaries of 1917 are nesting in the American House now. The torrid conditions are right for them to thrive – fierce agitation being stirred up among social classes, renewed tension between races, plenty of hustlers to keep those tensions high, an ultra- tormented election season and therefore– in my estimate — fear and loathing in the land, possibly to be augured by a migration to a neighborhood near you of the late Hunter Thompson’s hallucinatory desert bats. That’s not an “awakening”. That’s a nightmare.


What a week! What a month! MLK had a dream. We had a nightmare. We went on a bender. Nations can go on benders, too. France, 1789, Russia, 1917. Revolution, after all, is basically mass inebriation. In my particular nightmare, we’re in a flea bag hotel, hung over. The night started okay. Moonlight, hors d’oeuvres, Chinese lanterns, nice social distancing. Then we’re in the pool and in the tank. The pool’s blood red. Christopher Columbus is headless and horizontal. Folks are yelling “black lives matter” and getting cheers. Other folks are yelling, “ALL lives matter” and getting beat up. Liz Warren is downing boiler-makers and re-naming Army forts for flowers. (Fort Begonia for Fort Benning. Whatever!) Trump and Biden are wrestling on top of the peanut shells, giving each other beer shampoos. Chairs and bottle are flying. Some guy jumps up and says “Columbus delivered the natives from human sacrifice, cannibalism and ritual castration.” I say, “Sush! Don’t give these savage drunks any ideas.” The cops show up. They’ve got a new policy for barroom brawls and riots. Wait until it’s over, then arrest the losers. (The big loser, I’m thinking, will be American civilization.) The joint goes up in smoke. Then we’re crashed in that Roach Resort, still brawling. I wake up and pick up the Blue & Gray Bedside Guide for Recovering Civil Warriors. It reads, “we must not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it.” Perfect! Past- present, good-bad, black-white, blue-gray — it’s all us. All American. Can’t we sober up and get along, people? (Where’s Rodney King when we need him?) I think I’m still dreaming.


I’m going to honor police by telling a story about a bad cop. Paradox? No. The exception proves the rule. Most cops, as a rule, are good. That makes a bad one memorable. How memorable? This was October, 1963. My bad cop turned a “glorious evening” inglorious. I was 16 and searching on foot for my male and female peers in a triangle of Dorchester teenage haunts. I’d checked the First Boston Ten Pin (bowling alley) and Tenean Beach. No sign of anyone. Howie’s was next. “Howie’s was our Happy Days redoubt – the original orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s franchise on Morrissey Boulevard. Why was this a “glorious evening”? Because a block from Howie’s I remember pausing, looking up at the autumn sunset and saying to myself, “what a glorious evening!” Yeah, I know. But I was a budding aesthete in search of companions, preferably girls, with whom to share such tender observations (Come to think of it, my friends were probably hiding from me, fearful I’d bust out in poetry.) There were no familiar faces at Howie’s, either. It was early yet. I decided to retrace my steps to the bowling alley. Times were changing at Howie’s. There’d been a couple of “incidents”. Nothing by today’s standards. But the owner’s initial over-reaction was to remove the juke box and have police regularly shew away young crowds. (He hoped to create a prosaic adult eatery repellent to the young. He eventually succeeded.)That night, a police cruiser pulled up and ordered a small orderly crowd to disperse. They obediently headed to their cars. I walked toward the bowling alley. But the cruiser shadowed me. Newly near-sighted, too vain to wear glasses, I glanced toward the windshield, saw only a reflected street lights, smiled in embarrassment, kept walking. “How’d you like a punch in the f*cking mouth?” came a voice from within the cruiser. I was stunned. (I guess my glance had been misinterpreted as teenage insolence.) I objected to the profanity — and soon had a youngish cop in my face, chest-bumping me around, barking, “we don’t want you hear, the owners of this place don’t want you here, nobody wants you here…” on and on. Still stunned, I asked sheepishly if I could go back inside Howie’s. I needed to sit down and think about what had just happened to me. Nursing a coffee at the counter, consoled by a sympathetic waitress, I fumed. The foul language! The physical contact! And me, a manifestly inoffensive 16-year-old Dobby Gillis type in khakis and plaid shirt. The Hulk had been awakened in me. I stomped back out to Howie’s entrance, lurked behind a small young gathering of strangers, waited for the cruiser to show up. It did – and scattered the crowd, leaving me, an unmoving statue of rage – a glowering teenage werewolf seething with fiery indignation, face-to-face once again with Officer Chest-Bump who, plainly surprised, sensed some retaliatory action was teetering in the autumn air. I marched to the cruiser, pulled open the rear door, climbed into the back seat and said, ARREST ME! Then commenced a prime time episode of Good Cop-Bad Cop. Driver Good Cop, doubtless knowing his partner was a jerk, explained, “look we’ve got to keep this place clear, you get one, you get a trickle, then you get a flood…now if you want, we can take you in for loitering…” Bad Cop, thoroughly unnerved, reduced to brutish verbal impoverishment, merely shouted several forceful (but clean) iterations of Get Out of Here.! (I’d probably violated some ancient ordinance banning trespassing in a law enforcement conveyance for which, hopefully, the statute of limitations has expired.) At the end of the encounter, both men knew that what had happened was uncalled, out of line, unprofessional and that I had been minding my own business when I was subjected to profane abuse by a blue-suited, badge-wearing belligerent so-called keeper of the peace. (Actually, just a few, angry but relatively mild words to that effect.) Whole encounter – maybe fifteen seconds. Twenty max. But an important, memorable, basically peaceful protest that has never changed my conviction that Good Cops vastly outnumber Bad Cops. And, of course, no one has ever knelt down on my neck. Sometimes, thinking about that night, I wish I’d let them run me in, spouting lively rhymes of the season from the back seat and declaring “hey fellas, isn’t this a glorious evening?”



Let’s talk about symbols. Whether of words or gestures, symbols are important. Therefore let me say that the current, all-consuming national tragedy began with someone “taking a knee” – on the NECK of a fellow American. It turned into a deadly act of subjugation by a man radically and fatally abusing his civil authority. The image –and the symbol – lingers. Once upon a time, along with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we STOOD UP to declare our mutual love and we KNELT on both knees before a loving and all-powerful God. Powerful, affirmative symbols! We prayed together for deliverance from the sin of racism. We passed laws to that effect. King was murdered – a shocking and abiding symbol of how much work we had left to do. You can’t make people love one another. But since then, in our better moments, we’ve linked arms, tried (most of us) to obey those laws in the loving spirit in which they were ratified and again declared our respect for civil authority and for the symbols – such as the flag or the anthem – that unite us at public events, never pretending that our work of unifying was complete or that the fellow American to my right or left, however much I might disagree with him politically or religiously, did not continue to deserve my love, tolerance and understanding — especially if I expected him or her to love, understand and tolerate me. I think they call that the Golden Rule. The Colin Kepernick-generated symbol of “taking a knee” was an act of protest, yes (there’s nothing more American), but also an act of separation and disunion during very public demonstrations of unity and mutual respect, albeit enforced by both tradition, consensus and, in the case of the NFL, regulation. But Kaepernick’s gesture, disagree if you like, created needless tension and division and abides in my mind as a repudiation of our common bond of tolerance to which the national media, a craven, faceless monster of group-think, is now lending its imprimatur. It seemed to me to be a public act of anger. I know about anger. I’m often an angry person, for well or ill. But anger, along with sheer gleeful malevolence, is also why we are waking up to a ravaged nation of debris and death today. It’s also a sin. Meanwhile, the latest prominent soul to be swept before this wave of intimidation and political correctness run amok is Drew Brees, a seemingly decent and humble but patriotic family man who regularly puts on a uniform with fellow African-American teammates. I detect not a speck of racism in him. He simply loves his country and believes there’s a better, equally public, forum for powerfully airing grievances over lingering problems occurring at the intersection of police power and African-American civil and human rights. On NFL Sunday, Marathon Monday and many other times – we are together. And a week ago we were almost entirely together in our disgust and were loudly and peacefully protesting the outrage in Minneapolis. By contrast, the pronouncements and gestures of Kaepernick and his supporters, to my mind, play off the themes of white guilt and black power – all equally poisonous as claims of white supremacy. So – let’s not take a knee on one another’s necks. Let’s stand up – together.


As one police officer lay dead this morning, others wounded, and as I’ve watched innocent people pummeled and brutalized by rioters in a world out of control, and as I’ve listen, with much disgust, to the national media coverage of these events ( Savannah Guthrie on NBC this morning speaking of “unrest, some of it dangerous” LOL), I’m reminded that, back in the mid-seventies, I met renowned — and liberal — journalist Joe Klein ( author of Primary Colors) at a New York journalism conference. He told me more than once in separate conversations that he believed The Boston Globe had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for lying about the realities of forced busing in Boston. Joe, like millions of citizen and journalist, cared about racial justice. But the realities on the ground in Boston were that busing was essentially pitting one poor neighborhood against another, was social engineering run amok, imposing the ideal on the real (putting it mildly), fueling racial division and animosity, disrupting and ultimately denigrating actual education in the city, and, of course, leading to racial violence in and out of the school buildings and massive white flight to the suburbs. The Globe’s basic narrative was that it was all about achieving social justice and white neighborhood were to blame for resisting this bit of spinach on their plate. The newspaper acted as advocate rather than information source. Were there some bigots in Southie and in Boston? Sure. I knew and know some. They’re everywhere — outnumbered, very evidently, by people of good will. Early in this century, the city of Boston finally abandoned all its legal efforts to continue to fight parents’ efforts to get rid of the strained efforts to artificially achieve racial balance in the schools. The city and schools once very racially imbalanced were still imbalanced — from a majority white to majority minority. And everybody was the poorer for the effort. The mayor’s and other leader’s rationalization? “It’s a different city now.” No it wasn’t and isn’t. It’s every bit as racially imbalanced as it was in 1974 — and the negative legacy of forced busing is on display in schools and in neighborhoods. You’ll never get the Globe or City Hall to admit that. So, in the wake of an undeniably horrible and deadly act against a black man by a midwestern police officer, all the urban forces of social disintegration are on display — I’ve seen video of an innocent man being beaten by two black youths with two-by-fours as he tried unsuccessfully to protect his business. Stuck in my mind is the image of a youth twice his size pulling him up off the ground already nearly beaten to death and smashing him against the front of his store. I watched, as have all of you, scores of primarily black youths smashing windows and rushing from stores with armloads of looted merchandise, laughing gleefully. “Peaceful demonstrators?” Of course, there are some — massively outnumbered by criminal hooligans. I don’t need to catalogue all that you’ve seen. The national media would have us believe that these youths, with some exceptions,
are acting out of outrage over their mistreatment at the hands of a racists society. They are testing our credulity to the breaking point. We have seen police, in their desperate and pathetic effort to placate demonstrators engage in the symbolic act of “taking a knee.” This, after which the destruction of their cities continues unabated. I guess maybe we can call that an act of surrender. And we must not say that any of this is being instigated or fueled by outside agitator looking to sustain massive social unrest in the service of an essentially anarchic agenda. We are witnessing the political class, even the President to some extent, rendered impotent and craven by this social revolution that threatens all of us and which has absolutely nothing to do with social justice. I recall President Lyndon Johnson’s perplexity after he skillfully managed passage of a landmark Civil Rights Act, only to see Detroit and other cities set ablaze ( and Detroit has struggled to recover from those nights of horror.) And media coverage? I’ll call it what liberal journalist and author Neil Sheehan chose to call — whether one agrees or not — most representations of the reality on the ground in the tragic Vietnam War — a “bright shining lie.” He was speaking of the Administration at the time. It is the mainstream media that willfully filters, mutes and distorts reality now. By the way, I worked at the Globe as an editorial assistant — a low level person, but nonetheless able to sense the palpable air of advocacy and bias against busing’s sometimes all too easily dismissed opponents. We are witnessing a rolling tragedy, aided and abetted by the media. We will have trouble recovering from it as we struggle to recover from a pandemic. And we are being handed a mess of infuriating lies and being told not to acknowledge the true nature of what we are seeing — and have seen before — with our own eyes. This is as tragic as things get.


“Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.” What?? What?? Wait a minute!! Let me read that again. “YES, AMERICA IS BURNING, BUT THAT’S HOW FORESTS GROW. Did someone really say that at a time like this? Certainly not anyone in a position of responsibility at a moment when untrammeled violence and flames are ravaging our cities and thousands of business are being looted and destroyed and police and citizens injured or even killed. It could only have been some callow, starry-eyed 6th grader, making it someone — just somewhat — forgivable and maybe worthy of a C+ for poetry. Or, perhaps, for splendidly observing nature’s grand pageant. Above all, I thought to myself, no adult ELECTED PUBLIC OFFICIAL ever said such a thing at a perilous and tragic moment when so many of our fellow citizens of every race are suffering. So I checked and read the remarks in the context of the speech that contained them, only to find them even more ludicrous, shocking and outrageous — in context. Some of you would rather not know who would say such a thing, if, indeed, they came from a public official. And I don’t blame you. So, warning: the following may contain information that may be unsuitable for those already suffering spasms of rage at the excuses and accommodations the political class and the media are making for the chaos that engulfs us. Those words came from Maura Healey, Attorney General of my native Massachusetts. Let me just say that a week ago, we were united as a nation in our disgust and anger and calling for justice at the sight of an innocent African-American man being strangled to death in broad daylight by a thug cop. Many of us do not deny that too many African-American men have been shot or killed by police for it not to signal some need for reform, intervention and re-education. ( I was an M.P. in the Army and underwent police training.) But now we are all being called racists. And we have an Attorney General suggesting we are undergoing a necessary purgation. She needs to say that to some small business owner, preferably an African-American one, standing in front of the charred remains of his clothing store. The 6th grader gets a C+ for poetry. Madame Attorney General gets an INCOMPLETE. Surely she can do better than this. For one thing, she can’t seem to see the trees — being American lives, labors and hard-earned possessions — for this fancifully regenerating forest. God help us!