One of my boys - Uri - has really taken to a show called American Guns. For the most part, I think this is great. The Wyatts and their crew are a great example of people living their passion. There are lessons about negotiation, fair play, employee management, good business, family relations, safety, history, and respect. The show really has a lot going for it. There is a particular respect for people who serve, which I really dig

One of the things the Wyatts do at their shop, Gunsmoke, is make guns. If you want it, and it shoots, they'll find a way to make it. If it's special to you, they'll make it more special. If it's fashion you want, you can have a gun to match your team colors or your purse.

So I found myself surprised that one item of beauty they made so disturbed me.

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The Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East

The source of the “crisis” in Gaza is finally becoming clearer to the West. This source - the jihadi mission to establish a world caliphate - is currently on view in Hamas' struggle to exterminate the Jew, this on the way to subjugating the rest of the world in the name of Islam.

But this is only a symptom of a larger crisis. Put simply, this crisis is the Western abandonment (if it ever really possessed them) of humanitarian values in favor of empty forms and farcical bodies, bodies which assume the mantle of humanitarian concern only when it fits a particular agenda.

Just a few days ago, the United States Senate passed

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July 4, 2014

At this time of celebration of America's Independence, I am inspired again by the courage it took to declare certain “truths”:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

To the crown, attendance of the Second Continental Congress was an act of “treason and rebellion.” We were at war when the Declaration was adopted and the Continental Congressmen put themselves at risk by signing. But I don't think they could help themselves, This was the expression of a vision within their grasp, but at the same time a bold act that would in time bring a new and vibrant model of republican government to this world.

As we look around the world, we should note how exceptional the realization of this vision was and remains. The notion that our fellow countrymen are born equal to us is quite remarkable in human history. Our country was born into a world of monarchies and empires. To this day, there are castes, and slavery, and attempts by religions to dominate the political sphere.

The notion of unalienable rights remain unrealized in most of the world. In 77 countries, homosexuality is a crime. Fewer than a third of the world's countries are considered to have a free press. There are still 30 million slaves in the world. “Three-quarters of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion.” It seems our right to expression has not met the ideal our founders envisioned.

This week, the intolerance has been painfully real for me. It was witnessed in the finding of the bodies of three teenage students, two the age of my son, in Israel abducted and murdered simply because they were Jews. These people were deprived of their unalienable right to life simply because of who they are. Unfortunately the impetus to these killings remains as the widely held hatred of the other fostered by certain religions and peoples. America is still seen as the Great Satan. September 11 is still celebrated by Al-Qaida. ISIS, the “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” have declared that they will liberate Spain. Riots break out in France when police carry out an identity check.

But the past few weeks have also brought us acts of bravery, of which I would like to highlight two in the hope that they will inspire us all to stand up for these “unalienable rights.” Two Israelis, who happen to be Arab, Yihye Zakaria Mahameed and Mohammad Zoabi stood up and denounced the kidnapping of the three students. They are now faced with threats of violence and death for celebrating life.

It appears to me that what we in the west hold as self-evident is not so evident to others; these are rights that we must be ever-vigilant to strengthen and maintain. And this is my blessing for the American people. We should stand proud, especially today, of the rights enjoyed by the people of our republic and of free nations the world over. We are where we are today because of our stand against tyranny and our willingness to put lives on the line for humanity's “inalienable rights.” May we be ever blessed by our Creator to be the light of freedom and act accordingly.

The LAX shooting

This is in response to the article, There is Nothing Random About the LAX Shooting, by Charles P. Pierce in Esquire

Here's the thing. We can admit that the ready availability of guns correlates with a greater amount of gun violence. However, we have a constitutional provision (the Second Amendment) that guarantees the right to bear arms, a provision written with our own revolution against tyranny in mind, one in which citizen soldiers took on a government to assert their inalienable rights. To register with the government every firearm gives it the ability to confiscate the ability to revolt against the next iteration of governmental tyranny. Perhaps this seems to many a distant eventuality that does not justify current access to arms; but it's there in the constitution and such change should be pursued at the constitutional level, where change is slow and deliberate, not the knee jerk reaction to current events.

Yes, guns make it easier to kill people, but there are many other factors we can address without changing the constitution, factors as simple as diet, the tacit acceptance of a certain social contract, access to mental health care, the effects of one size fits all (or I'd suggest doesn't fit anyone) schooling, the effects of poor parenting, ineffective policing, or the militarization of our police forces, basic training in self-defense, or crazy gunman preparedness.

For every person who picks up a gun and starts a shootin', I'd guess there are a thousand more who feel similarly broken or enraged, whom society has failed, but who simply don't express their anger or illness by shooting. The shooting is just a symptom of a larger social disease. Where is the desperate outcry to prevent the destruction of potential by the crack-pipe, alcohol, abuse, or even well-meaning government programs that strip people of their dignity?

There is really nothing random in our creation of dis-empowering dependencies either, and they do a lot more damage to the human spirit and our potential as a nation, and our willingness to take care of each other. We might actually have fewer shootings if we actually personally took on making a difference, instead of irrationally expecting another half-baked law to provide some remedy.

Because Sometimes You Ought to Make Some Noise

I publish this one for my son Yakov (see below). Last week, his school took his class to Tel Chai for Shabbat. He rolled in after ten o'clock in at night. He was tired, so he asked us if he could stay home the next day. We said sure. He's a great young man, responsible about school, caring and all that. And if he says he'd like a day off, we generally have no problem with it. So he slept in and took it easy. The next day he went back to school. Apparently, a third of his class saw fit to take Sunday off. His teacher got pissed. He gave them all detention. When Yakov called me at three on Monday to let me know he'd be home late, I was livid. I told him to get on the damned bus and disregard the detention and told him, “we've got his back.”

His response was that they would then make him stay the next day. I told him we would not stand it if he chose not to. He stayed anyway. I guess sometimes it seems easier to go with the flow. There are any number of my friends who will tell you I don't necessarily choose the easy way, and I suppose I was asking Yakov to choose the path of greater resistance, but I think there is an important lesson to be learned in standing up against even these small injustices, and too much of this kind of shtick goes on in his school.

I share the following as an object lesson. My friend Gunther lives in southern Germany, and has made a bit of noise fighting against his and the Swiss governments' plans and agreements to let the Zurich airport use southern German airspace for planes in holding patterns, this in large part to meet more stringent noise pollution rules in Switzerland. But whether it is an airport doing regularly what is only supposed to be done in limited circumstances, or a school imposing unjust and arbitrary punishments for students taking care of themselves, the principal is the same, Sometimes You Just Ought to Make Some Noise. As uncomfortable as it may look from the outset, your quality of life, and perhaps the quality of all human life, is at stake.

In Support of My Friend and Fellow Rabble-Rouser, Gunther Volk

April 16, 2012

I write because my friend and fellow noise-maker, Gunther Volk, and I recently had a discussion. Mr. Volk lamented that Germans are too quick to submit to authority and to believe that that authority has the best interests of the populace at heart. Indeed, my friend Mr. Volk has his own issues with those who hold positions of public trust because he does not keep his mouth shut when he has something to contribute. Not only does he think, but he exercises the freedom to express those thoughts.

I think this is good, but it apparently rubs against a certain German sense of order. The more I have thought about this, the more I have concluded that Germany, Europe, and the world have failed to learn the lessons of the last great war, and indeed all of human history. These lessons are quite simple:

  1. There is evil in the world, perhaps a kernel of it in the hearts of all men.
  2. Evil can not be appeased.

People seem to have an incredible lack of imagination, or historic memory. It is very difficult for them to see from another’s viewpoint. The dominant view of Western thought is “live and let live.” We believe in individual rights and freedoms, coupled with varying degrees of responsibility and mutual assistance on a broad spectrum from the libertarian out to the limits of the socialist democracy. We argue vociferously about every nuance within this spectrum, but are not generally offended by any balance chosen within it.

Our problem is that we want to believe that the world falls within this spectrum, and that flashes of violence represent transient and limited aberrations, that we have grown and are somehow unlike the generations that came and pursued war before us. We see the tenderness with which an evil person can treat his child, or the tear that person sheds, and want to believe that person is no different than we are. We can not fathom that a person could see our tears and our own dead and hand out candies to celebrate.

We do not wish to admit that people hate, that they would sacrifice their cousins, their brothers and sisters, and even their children to serve their hate, to prove they are right, and to force the world into their belief system. We especially do not like to admit to that kernel of evil that is resident within ourselves. We would rather attribute the atrocities of our forebears - the colonization, exploitation, slavery, acts of genocide, or standing idle witness thereto - to their particular circumstances or the Weltanschauung dominant in their time, than to admit that it was their nature, our nature, and the nature of humankind that made it possible. We justify our our own hate and prejudice by finding fault in the other. It is difficult to imagine that we could have perpetrated and tolerated the evil we have if there weren’t some underlying reason for it. So we stand by and let it grow again, and again, and again.

So what does this have to do with my friend Mr. Volk. Fortunately, his mother impressed upon him quite early on that one does not stand idly by and watch when injustice occurs. Recently, he has taken on what some may see as a small injustice. Zurich airport wants planes to fly their holding patterns over his part of Germany, meeting noise and pollution requirements in their own country by exporting their pollution to Germany. He related a comment that was made to him. A woman sympathetic to his cause said “I could never do what you are doing.” She could not take a stand against the figurative dumping of another country's garbage in her own back yard, which I can not imagine to have been a particularly divisive issue on her home turf. I had to wonder who then would have taken it on if Mr. Volk had not?

We have a tolerance for a certain amount of injustice. But what level of injustice would have been enough to exercise this lady? Or would increased injustice just bring increased oppression that only the most courageous and heroic of us would fight against? Life gains purpose and meaning when we stand up to injustice, big or small. Mr. Volk has learned this and has a better life for it. Indeed, everyone in the fly-over zone has had a better life because of his big mouth. Moreover, knowing he has nothing to fear from opening his mouth gives him the strength to stand up when the issues are bigger.

My invitation to the German people - and the rest of the world for that matter - is to take in this an object lesson. Stand up to authority. It is not always on your side. For the sake of our collective future, open your mouths about the little things. If you do, you will be ready when the bigger ones come along. Confront the injustice that is in front of you today and you will not again fall prey to the hate and prejudice that consumes whole societies. If you fail to do so, the way is open for evil to flourish again.

Evil can not be appeased.