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All Jews Suffer When Some Do Wrong

June 15, 2018 Leave a comment

I was 16 years old in 1953 when, on June 19, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage against the United States of America. My family name is Rosenberg and my parents, my brothers and I are all Canadian born. We always lived in Toronto, yet we were under threat because of the Rosenberg spies in the USA.

We had nothing to do with it, of course. The only knowledge we had of it was from news out of the USA on our radios, televisions, and in our newspapers. In spite of our lack of any kind of connection to the spies, we received threats in the mail and on the telephone. “When the Rosenbergs die, you die,” was the message.

I remember two plain-clothes policemen being in our home on that day and a few days afterward, just in case somebody actually attempted something. Nobody did, of course, in gentle Canada and “Toronto the Good” as it was called in those days. I guess it was called that was because of our adherence to Sunday closing laws and the absence of alcoholic beverages except for government owned stores and the need to have a permit to purchase beer, wine and liquor.

My father received an envelope in the mail. It contained a newspaper story about the execution across which the sender had scrawled with red crayon, “Jews, the most hated race on earth.” I already knew about that kind of bigotry of course, because of the aggression I’d experienced in school and on the streets.

I find it especially ridiculous because, although I am of Jewish heritage, I don’t believe or practice any religious rituals. I am certain that there is no God and there is was no son of God. There was no meeting between Moses and God, nor does Mohammad or any other holy figure represent God. To have faith is to have a flawed belief system. Far better to have faith in one’s self to achieve or fail on one’s own.

We make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons. I have been against religious teachings since I was a teenager. Without any help from God, I have been successful and enjoyed good fortune all my life. I am 80, I am healthy and active, and have never prayed for anything, yet much good has come to me. I have often put myself in harm’s way in my quest for adventure, and always escaped harm without any God’s help.

I feel guilt when a Bernie Madoff or Michael Cohen type Jew does wrong. It’s a traditional burden that most men of Jewish heritage carry, even though it’s nonsense. Ugly encounters with anti-Semitic elements make it part of Jewish life.

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The People of Your Life Grow Sparse

May 25, 2018 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to write at this moment, while my feelings are in great tumult. Although my life has kept me isolated from my boyhood pals and girls for several decades, I consider them a part of me, as part of the good and bad adventures we sometimes shared, and the stories we shared about them.

The advent of the Internet enabled us to search the world for old acquaintances. I’m in my eighties. I just learned that Bernie died. He was my closest friend from the age of fifteen to thirty. We were even brothers in law in our twenties for many years because we married twin girls. The news of Bernie’s death has shaken me a bit. I’m two months younger than Bernie, and I’m still here.

I read in his obituary details of Bernie’s final years. He suffered. He was supported by friends but cared for by strangers in several homes where they placed him. It breaks my heart to think of him in squalor. He was a fabulous character. He always dressed impeccably in fine garments. He always wore alligator shoes. He was exciting.

I felt the first impact of loss of past friends some years ago. I was told of the death of my long-time steady girlfriend from high school. At the same time I learned that her closest girlfriend, who I had dated once, was also dead. My “steady” had been a music teacher and the other woman had been a doctor. They’ve been dead for many years.

Added to my emotional burden about Bernie was news of another one of the guys. Marty was seen walking with a caregiver because he has dementia. The mutual friend who told me about it said Marty didn’t recognize her.

I have just one brother. There used to be three of us brothers, but our middle brother passed away several years ago.

My one remaining friend is seventy-three, and an active athlete at competitive levels. He participates in vintage formula auto racing, snowboarding, and tennis. I was never an athlete, but I’m able to do heavy work for short durations. I write blogs or stories every day, and usually do some drawings as well.

Why are Howie, Steve, and me  still here, while our flesh and blood and our friends are gone, physically or mentally?

Luck and genes I would guess.

A Dearth of Mensch

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

If you’re a woman of gentle nature and living a wholesome life, you might be seeking a special, exclusive partner. Women who fit that basic description are up against a tough situation. Although women of this type are desirable, and men would love to partner up with such women, it doesn’t happen happily as often as it should.

The main thing that diminishes the number of happy unions between gentle women and men who desire them is the dearth of mensch. The scarcity of good, kind, decent and honourable men is a potential problem for women of that same kind. Many women are not attracted to cowboys, high rollers and tattoos on bodies rippling with muscles.

Most any woman is attractive to a man of some type, but many men are unattractive to women of taste and quality. I don’t mean divas, or wealthy women. I mean good, honest, intelligent women. A man in a flashy car with a tattooed elbow out the window will be compellingly attractive to some women, but a woman with much self-esteem might find that image dated, or even comical.

The situation is such that for some women, a good man is hard to find. For other women, a hard man is good to find.

There is No God

March 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Assuming I’m correct in my belief that there is no god, it’s worrying to imagine how many other beliefs are erroneous. That applies to Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and all the many other cults that flourish. I don’t know much about religion because it’s been boring to me and without substance.

Catholicism is widespread and visible, so I choose it to explore my imaginings. I admire the part of any religion that serves society’s poor and needy, but there is much more to the rituals and realities in which millions of people believe. If there is no god, what are the priests and cardinals and even the Pope really doing? They are ‘selling’ a belief that is a hoax.

In recent decades it has come to light that a great number of priests are perverts who molest young people, boys and girls. It is possible that these men have entered the priesthood for the opportunities to take advantage of youngsters in their control. The power of priests among believers has been strong but undeserved. I know of families where there are 10 to 12 siblings. These are poor people, and the large families live in poverty, yet they are pushed by their priests into having more children.

Peculiar rituals abound in Catholic churches. Small wafers represent the flesh of Christ and wine represents Christ’s blood. It is bizarre to say the least, and if there is no god, there certainly is no son of god through a virgin mother. Clearly, it’s nonsense. Kneeling before their god is demeaning, and would never be required by a loving god.

We are told that Christ lived a simple life like a poor but generous person. That does not fit with the ways of the church. In dominantly Catholic communities, no matter how humble there will be a large, imposing church. Priests wear flowing gowns and ornate tapestry trimmings, not at all like the poor and simple.

The Pope wears particularly ornate garments, and headgear that towers above others. The purpose of the fancy outfits is like that of a theatre marquee. It projects an aura of power and holiness, but it’s just a phony front. I recall a time when I was chatting with a mature Catholic couple. When I calmly told them that I did not believe there is a god, they literally staggered back a bit, partly in shock and partly as if they feared they might catch something from me. These were successful business owners, yet were enslaved by the nonsense in which they were raised.

Finally, throughout that largely Catholic area, there are crosses mounted at intersections, and bathtubs upended and dressed up as biblical scenes. Ridiculous to say the least. I once helped a friend in a pig barn. It was a hellish sight, with sows trapped in small enclosures, often sitting on their young and killing them. The dead piglets were tossed into freezers, of which there were several. Even more outrageous, on the walls above the suffering sows there were crucifixes a-plenty. The woman who owned the pig farm was a music teacher, and eventually left her marriage and became a lesbian. There is so much exhibiting of belief and so much mendacity.

There is no god!

I Think I’m Elitist

March 9, 2018 Leave a comment

I drove up and parked in front of the convenience store which is beside a biker bar. Lingering in front of the bar was a bunch of slovenly looking characters waiting for the bar to open on the Friday afternoon. All of them were smoking cigarettes and chuckling together in French. I could hear that they were exalted because it was Friday, “vendredi” as they call it, and a weekend of drunkenness was eagerly anticipated. They were speaking French because this town in Eastern Ontario is close to the border with French Quebec.

As I exited the car, two of the men and one butch looking girl in worn work boots rushed to enter the store ahead of me. I entered and was made to wait patiently while they purchased dozens of cans of beer, undoubtedly planning to spend their weekend in drunken stupors, and would begin by squandering some of their meager pay in the dingy biker bar. When the girl had her beer she turned quickly and slammed right into me.

I think I’m elitist because I definitely feel superior to them. I don’t smoke nor do I drink except on special occasions, and rarely is it beer. I do not rush to get ahead of others so they must wait while I complete my purchase. In this case it was potato chips to please my granddaughter and a lottery ticket because if one doesn’t enter one can’t possibly win.

I wonder if any of the rabble ever reads books or listens to good music or watches intelligent television. They probably have never sat at a computer keyboard and explored the world outside of bars and beer. I might well be wrong, but I doubt it. The simple lives of simple people are a burden for people who contribute intelligence and taste to society.

So I’m an elitist. What of it?

Responsibilities and Illusions

March 8, 2018 Leave a comment

My father’s eldest brother was, by default, the head of the extended family. He was well worthy of the responsibility. He arrived in Canada with his parents and three of his four siblings. My father, the youngest in the family was born in Canada shortly after their arrival on the shores of North America.

The family was clearly respectful of the eldest son. He worked hard and studied hard and became a corporate lawyer. He had earned a million dollars while he was still young, and was wiped out in the crash of 1929. Undaunted, he continued his work ethic, and climbed back into wealth. Even as a respected lawyer, he carried his lunch to his office to which he walked until he had earned again his respectable fortune.

Many years passed, and he was always looked to as the family patriarch, leading us into respectable lives. As the patriarch, he was our religious leader as well. We did not see him often, but we followed his example all the same. We respected the religion which he advocated, and were satisfied that we were doing right.

There came a summer weekend when I was a young father. My father had bought a lovely lakeside cottage on an island in the Great Lakes for he and my mother as well as I and my brothers and our children to enjoy. I went to the island on a weekend when all the other members of our immediate family were otherwise occupied. I took my son and daughter and one of my nephews for a weekend of swimming, fishing, and sitting around a fire.

There was a phone in the island cottage through underwater lines. It was the 1960s, and there was not yet satellites circling the Earth, and cellphones would not be heard of until several decades later. The phone rang unexpectedly. When I answered, it was my father. He called to tell me that my uncle, my father’s eldest brother and the religious leader and patriarch of the family had suddenly died.

I asked Dad if I should pack up the kids and drive the three hours back home for the funeral and other rituals. To my surprise, he said no. He told me that my uncle had left written instruction in which he stated that he only acted the role of religious example for the family because he felt it was his responsibility. In his true, personal beliefs, he was an atheist, and wanted all of the religious rituals to be disregarded, and to just be simply cremated. Cremation is against our religion, and that was a strong statement of his personal beliefs.

The kids and I were left to enjoy a happy summer weekend. More importantly, my brothers and I, and our children and cousins were free to follow our own personal beliefs. I have always been an atheist, at least since I was about 18. It’s comfortable to be free of the burden of the absurdity of religious rituals.

Reading the Second Amendment

March 7, 2018 2 comments

The Second Amendment’s Syntax Permits Only One Reasonable Interpretation

by Sheldon Richman

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

—Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Is this sentence so hard to understand? Apparently so. Even some of its defenders don’t like how it is worded because it allegedly breeds misunderstanding.

But the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights is indeed a well-crafted sentence. By that I mean that its syntax permits only one reasonable interpretation of the authors’ meaning, namely, that the people’s individual right to be armed ought to be respected and that the resulting armed populace will be secure against tyranny, invasion, and crime. Someone completely ignorant of the eighteenth-century American political debates but familiar with the English language should be able to make out the meaning easily.

My concern is not to demonstrate that what the amendment says is good policy, only that it says what it says. No other fair reading is possible.

The Competing Interpretation

Before proceeding, let’s understand the competing interpretation. As the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California put it, “The original intent of the Second Amendment was to protect the right of states to maintain militias.” Dennis Henigan of Handgun Control, Inc., says the amendment is “about the distribution of military power in a society between the federal government and the states. That’s all they [the Framers] were talking about.” As he put it elsewhere, “The Second Amendment guaranteed the right of the people to be armed as part of a ‘well regulated’ militia, ensuring that the arming of the state militia not depend on the whim of the central government” [emphasis added].

This interpretation is diametrically opposed to the view that says the amendment affirms the right of private individuals to have firearms. The ACLU, HCI, and others reject this, arguing that the amendment only affirms the right of the states to maintain militias or, today, the National Guard. These competing interpretations can’t both be right.

The first problem with the militia interpretation is that the amendment speaks of a right and, of course, the amendment appears in the Bill of Rights. (Powers with respect to the militia are enumerated in Articles I and II of the Constitution.) No other amendment of the original ten speaks of the States having rights. Nowhere, moreover, are rights recognized for government (which in the Framers’ view is the servant) but denied to the people (the masters). Henigan and company are in the untenable position of arguing that while the Framers used the term “the people” to mean individuals in the First (the right to assemble), Fourth (the right to be secure in persons, houses, papers, and effects), Ninth (unenumerated rights), and Tenth (reserved powers) Amendments, they suddenly used the same term to mean “the States” in the Second. That makes no sense.

More important, the diction and syntax of the amendment contradict Henigan’s argument. If the Framers meant to say that the States have a right to organize militias or that only people who are members of the militia have a right to guns, why would they say, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”? The Framers were intelligent men with a good grasp of the language. As we can see from the Tenth Amendment, they were capable of saying “States” when they meant States and “people” when they meant people. They could have said, “The right of the States to organize and arm militias shall not be infringed,” though that would have contradicted Article I, Section 8, which delegated that power to the Congress. (Roger Sherman proposed such language, but it was rejected.) Or, they could have written, “The right of members of the state militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” though that would have contradicted Article I, Section 9, which forbids the States to “keep Troops . . . in time of Peace.” They didn’t write it that way. They wrote “the people,” without qualification. (The Supreme Court said in the 1990 case U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez that “the people” has the same meaning—individuals—throughout the Bill of Rights.)

But, say the gun controllers, what of that opening phrase, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”? Here’s where we have to do some syntactical analysis. James Madison’s original draft reversed the order of the amendment: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country.” Perhaps this version makes Madison’s thought more clear. His sentence implies that the way to achieve the well-armed and well-regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free state is to recognize the right of people to own guns. In other words, without the individual freedom to own and carry arms, there can be no militia. As to the term “well regulated,” it does not refer to government regulation. This can be seen in Federalist 29, where Alexander Hamilton wrote that a militia acquired “the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well regulated militia” by going “through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary.”

What the Syntax Tells Us

How do we know that the “well regulated militia” is defined in terms of an armed populace and not vice versa? The syntax of the sentence tells us. Madison and his colleagues in the House of Representatives chose to put the militia reference into a dependent phrase. They picked the weakest possible construction by using the participle “being” instead of writing, say, “Since a well regulated militia is necessary. . . .” Their syntax keeps the militia idea from stealing the thunder of what is to come later in the sentence. Moreover, the weak form indicates that the need for a militia was offered not as a reason (or condition) for prohibiting infringement of the stated right but rather as the reason for enumerating the right in the Bill of Rights. (It could have been left implicit in the Ninth Amendment, which affirms unenumerated rights.)

All of this indicates the highly dependent and secondary status of the phrase. Dependent on what? The main, independent clause, which emphatically and unequivocally declares that the people’s right to have guns “shall not be infringed.” (Note: the amendment presupposes the right; it doesn’t grant it.)

Let’s go at this from another direction. Imagine that a Borkian inkblot covers the words “well regulated militia.” All we have is: “A [inkblot] being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” To make an intelligent guess about the obscured words, we would have to reason from the independent clause back to the dependent phrase. We would know intuitively that the missing words must be consistent with the people having the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, anything else would be patently ridiculous. Try this: “A well-regulated professional standing army (or National Guard) being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That sentence would bewilder any honest reader. He’d ask why such unlike elements were combined in one sentence. It makes no sense. It’s a non sequitur.

Imagine the deliberations of the Committee of Eleven, the group of House members to which Madison’s proposed bill of rights was referred. Assume that one member says, “We should have an amendment addressing the fact that the way to achieve the well-regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free state is for the national government to respect the right of the States to organize and arm militias.” “No,” replies another member. “The amendment should reflect the fact that the way to achieve the well-regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free state is for the government to respect the people’s right to bear arms.” If both members were told to turn their declarative sentences into the imperative form appropriate to a bill of rights, which one would have come up with the language that became the Second Amendment? The question answers itself.

The Committee of Eleven reversed the elements of Madison’s amendment. But that, of course, did not change the meaning, only the emphasis. In fact, the reversal made it a better sentence for the Bill of Rights. As adopted, the amendment begins by quickly putting on the record the most important reason for its inclusion in the Bill of Rights but without dwelling on the matter; that’s what the weak participle, “being,” accomplishes. The sentence then moves on to the main event: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The Framers correctly intuited that in a Bill of Rights, the last thing the reader should have ringing in his mind’s ear is the absolute prohibition on infringement of the natural right to own guns.

I am not suggesting that the Framers said explicitly that the militia reference should go into a dependent participial phrase so that future readers would know that it takes its meaning from the independent clause. They didn’t need to do that. To be fluent in English means that one intuits the correct syntax for the occasion and purpose at hand. Much knowledge of a language is tacit. We have to assume that the Framers knew what they were saying.

What Language Experts Say

This analysis is seconded by two professional grammarians and usage experts. In 1991, author J. Neil Schulman submitted the text of the Second Amendment to A. C. Brocki, editorial coordinator of the Office of Instruction of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a former senior editor for Houghton Mifflin, and Roy Copperud, now deceased, the author of several well-regarded usage books and a member of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel. Brocki and Copperud told Schulman that the right recognized in the amendment is unconditional and unrestricted as to who possesses it.

Asked if the amendment could be interpreted to mean that only the militia had the right, Brocki replied, “No, I can’t see that.” According to Copperud, “The sentence does not restrict the right to keep and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere or by others than the people.” As to the relation of the militia to the people, Schulman paraphrased Brocki as saying, “The sentence means that the people are the militia, and that the people have the right which is mentioned.” On this point, Copperud, who was sympathetic to gun control, nevertheless said, “The right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining the militia.”

It is also important to realize that, as a matter of logic, the opening phrase does not limit the main clause. As the legal scholar and philosopher Stephen Halbrook has argued, although part one of the amendment implies part two, it does not follow that if part one doesn’t obtain, part two is null and void. The sentence “The earth being flat, the right of the people to avoid ocean travel shall not be infringed” does not imply that if the earth is round, people may be compelled to sail. The Framers would not have implied that a right can properly be infringed; to call something a right is to say that no infringement is proper. As another philosopher and legal scholar, Roger Pilon, has written, the amendment implies that the need for a militia is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for forbidding infringement of the right to have firearms. The sentence also tells us that an armed populace is a necessary condition for a well-regulated militia.

Superfluous Commas

A word about punctuation: most reproductions of the Second Amendment contain a plethora of commas: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But according to the American Law Division of the Library of Congress, this is not how the amendment was punctuated in the version adopted by Congress in 1789 and ratified by the States. That version contained only one comma, after the word state which, by the way, was not uppercased in the original, indicating a generic political entity as opposed to the particular States of the Union. If the superfluous commas have confused people about the amendment’s meaning, that cause of confusion is now removed.

One need not resort to historical materials to interpret the Second Amendment, because it is all there in the text. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to point out that history supports, and in no way contradicts, that reading. Gun ownership was ubiquitous in eighteenth-century America, and the Founding Fathers repeatedly acknowledged the importance of an armed citizenry. They also stated over and over that the militia is, as George Mason, the acknowledged father of the Bill of Rights, put it, “the whole people.” Madison himself, in Federalist 46, sought to assuage the fears of the American people during the ratification debate by noting that an abusive standing army “would be opposed [by] a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands.” That would have comprised the entire free adult male population at the time. There’s no question that at the center of the American people’s tacit ideology was the principle that, ultimately, they could not delegate the right of self-defense to anyone else and thus they were responsible for their own safety.

Perhaps the deterioration of American education is illustrated by the high correlation between the number of years a person has attended school and his inability to understand the words “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is more likely, though, that those who interpret the Second Amendment to preclude an individual right to own guns are driven by their political agenda. Whichever the case, they do themselves no credit when they tell us that a simple, elegant sentence means the opposite of what it clearly says.

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families and thousands of articles.