What is too much for online sharing

The New Republic has an article about “Undersharing on Facebook Has Become a Bigger Crime Than Oversharing.”  I am confounded how an argument can be made that by not sharing one’s thoughts, it is causing more problems.  While I do think people need to share thoughts in order to teach others and support others in similar life situations, I also advocate for discretion.  Not everyone should share nor should all topics be deemed worthy of online sharing.  This is not to mention the long term ramifications of online commenting and posting.  However, I do agree with the author’s sentiment that there are situations when public outcry needs to be made through any medium available.  Social media has created a double edge sword regarding what is deemed private vs. public.

Undersharing on Facebook Has Become a Bigger Crime Than Oversharing
By Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Do you complain about your marriage on Facebook? If you’re not, according to Hannah Seligson, you should start. In a recent New York Times piece, Seligson argued that by refusing to broadcast marital spats on social media—by “undersharing about our spouses”—couples are inflicting harm on their unmarried friends. Posting only “the occasional burst of good news” gives a false idea of marriage to your unmarried friends (who evidently don’t have access to movies, novels, or the offline versions of any of their Facebook friends). This creates a vicious cycle: Miserable unions that look blissful online inspire other ill-suited couples to tie the knot.

The predominant complaint on social media used to be against oversharing, from banal complaints about your subway ride to reckless murder accusations. But in the past year or so, the balance has shifted: Whereas we used to question the ethics of sharing, now we question the ethics of withholding. It’s not enough to vent to some offline friends. Anyone who has a private story that might benefit others owes that story to the general public, and whatever is holding someone back from telling all—concerns about reputation, perhaps—starts to look selfish. Social-media silence, once viewed as admirable discretion or a sign that someone’s got too much of a real (that is, offline) life for such trivialities, now seems suspect. Whether it’s that your child has a learning disability or that your wife’s lost interest in sex, the world has a right to know.

That goes for politics, too. While some view partisan status updates as irritating, others see them as a requirement for good citizenship. Here, too, the pro-sharing side is winning out, as became apparent last summer and fall in the debate about why white people weren’t talking about Ferguson on Facebook. In her much-shared essay, Janee Woods argued that her white friends were too busy sharing cat videos and mourning celebrities to remark upon Michael Brown’s death. Woods suggested that the only possible explanation for this silence was apathy or, at least, inadequate concern:

There’s a real fear of saying the wrong thing even if the intention is pure, of being alienated socially and economically from other white people for standing in solidarity with black people, or of putting one’s self in harm’s way, whether the harm be physical or psychological. I’m not saying those aren’t valid fears but I am challenging white people to consider carefully whether failing to speak out or act because of those fears is justified when white silence and inaction mean the oppression and death of black people.
In The Guardian, Heather Barmore acknowledged that white people posting about race are bound to have their privilege checked, but asked them to get over it and post anyway: “[R]acism is real—and the first step to having a practical conversation is to admit that it’s real and that it can be terrifying.” In early December, Vocativ’s Abigail Tracy called out the borough of Staten Island for its “deafening silence” on the Eric Garner grand jury decision, as judged by hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. (The nostalgic “#TBT” evidently won out over “#BlackLivesMatter.”)

A lack of stand-taking on social media can easily be interpreted as callous indifference to the world. It’s now assumed that people not only should but do share everything on social media, so an absence of posts and tweets about certain topics suggests that someone either isn’t thinking about them or is thinking something unspeakable, at least in their social circle.

The fight against parental overshare (a battle I still support) looks like a lost cause. As the very concept of privacy becomes a relic, the notion that people might be selectively open about certain information starts to look quaint. It shouldn’t. A culture of socially-enforced sharing will, I suspect, screw over those with less social-media savvy. They’ll earnestly share all, only to become pariahs among their friends—or nationally, if Gawker picks up the story. And I have yet to see any evidence that the sharing of family members’ secrets makes the world a better place. There are legal reasons divorcing couples should avoid posting too much information; reticence may be less about self-promotion-by-omission and more about a desire not to have posts brought up in court. Those who do post play-by-plays of their marriage’s demise inspire not admiration but bafflement.

There’s a far stronger case to be made for speaking out about current events. While I’d rather not see individuals judged for what they omit from their preferred social media platform, these are effective awareness-raising tools, and a little general social pressure to use them as such doesn’t hurt. Woods and Barmore have a point: If what’s holding you back from calling out injustice is a fear of getting too few likes, perhaps the time has come to accept that status updates are, if not the entirety of political engagement, a start. The same white people who feel queasy if they don’t speak out when someone says something racist at a dinner party would do well to feel the same guilty conscience in their social-media interactions. That doesn’t mean you need to live-tweet your delayed flight, but speak up when the moment warrants it. You might be more severely judged for what you don’t say than what you do.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a writer living in New Jersey.

inherent Psychological biases

The article below presents an interesting experiment in assumption and bias.

A Magician’s Best Trick: Revealing a Basic Human Bias
An encounter with a magician reveals a lesson: Think critically about whether you’re only intermittently thinking critically

Dec. 31, 2014 12:01 p.m. ET

My family and I recently watched a magician perform. He was not of the sleight-of-hand ilk but, instead, had a stunning ability to psychologically manipulate his audience into doing and thinking what he wanted: con man as performance artist. He was amazing.

Afterward, we had the fortune of talking about neuroscience and psychology with him. In the process, he offered a demonstration of a small building-block of his craft.

The Magician gave a dime to a volunteer, my son, instructing him to hide it in one of his hands behind his back. The Magician would then guess which hand held the dime. He claimed that if you’re attuned to subtleties in people’s behavior, you can guess correctly at way above chance levels.

Not that day, though. The Magician wasn’t doing so hot. After a string of wrong guesses, he mumbled to my son, “Hmm, you’re hard to read. More rounds, and The Magician was only running 50-50.

They traded roles. And my son turned out to be really good at this game. The Magician looked impressed. After a stretch of correct guesses, he asked: “Did you play rock/paper/scissors when you were a kid?”

“Yes,” my son said.

“Were you good at it?”

“I suppose so.”

“Ah, makes sense, there are similar skills involved.”

Another string of successful guesses; we were agog. The Magician, looking mighty alert, asked: “So, are you trying to imagine what I’m thinking? Or are you focusing on my facial expressions? Or on something I’m doing with my hands?”

The near perfect streak continued; we were flabbergasted. Finally, another guess by my son—“I’m guessing it’s in your right hand.” The Magician opened his right hand displaying a dime. And then opened his left hand, which contained…another dime.

We dissolved with laughter, seeing what dupes we were. Ohhh, he had dimes in both hands the whole time. We started imagining cons built on manipulating a mark into believing that he has an otherworldly skill at something unexpected, and then somehow exploiting that false belief.

The guy had played us every step of the way. First, there was his “poor” performance at guessing—hey, we concluded, this guy puts on his pants one leg at a time. Then he complimented my son with “Hmm, you’re hard to read.” Next, The Magician gave a plausible explanation for my son’s success: “The experience with rock/paper/scissors, of course.” Finally, as my son’s run continued, The Magician indicated it was now a given that my son was virtuosic at this game: The point now was to analyze how he was doing it. Hook, line and sinker.

Something was painfully obvious. If my son had had a string of failures, with the hand containing no dime, we would have instantly used Critical Thinking 101, saying to the magician: “Hey, open your other hand, let’s make sure both hands aren’t empty.”

But faced with this string of successes, it never occurred to us to say. “Let’s make sure you don’t also have a dime in that other hand.” Instead, I had been thinking: “Wow, my son turns out to be the Chosen One of dime-guessing; my wife and I now have the heavy responsibility of ensuring that he only uses his gift for good; he’ll usher in world peace with his ability; he’ll…”

No wonder I’m embarrassed.

It’s what psychologists call “confirmation bias”: remembering information that supports your opinion better than information doing the opposite; testing things in a way that can only support, rather than negate, your hypothesis; and—the variant we fell for—being less skeptical about outcomes we like than we would about less-pleasing results.

Confirmation bias infests diplomacy, politics, finance and everyday life. This experience offered some wonderful lessons: Think critically about whether you’re only intermittently thinking critically; beware of Ponzis bearing gifts; always examine the mouth and the other hand of a gift horse.

Why we eat spicy foods

I guess I now have a better understanding of my enjoyment of spicy food and my regular use of hot sauce.  The WSJ has a piece in its weekend review called “Why We Love the Pain of Spicy Food.”  Though, I can honestly say I do have a limit to the amount of spice I am willing to try.  I am not one to want excessive risk and pain, just a kick to my taste-buds.

Why We Love the Pain of Spicy Food
Eating hot chili peppers allows us to court danger without risk, activating areas of the brain related to both pleasure and pain.

Dec. 31, 2014 2:10 p.m. ET

As winter settles in and temperatures plunge, people turn to food and drink to provide a little warmth and comfort. In recent years, an unconventional type of warmth has elbowed its way onto more menus: the bite of chili peppers, whether from the red jalapeños of Sriracha sauce, dolloped on tacos or Vietnamese noodles, or from the dried ancho or cayenne peppers that give a bracing kick to Mayan hot chocolate.

But the chili sensation isn’t just warm: It hurts! It is a form of pain and irritation. There’s no obvious biological reason why humans should tolerate it, let alone seek it out and enjoy it. For centuries, humans have eagerly consumed capsaicin—the molecule that generates the heat sensation—even though nature seems to have created it to repel us.

Like our affection for a hint of bitterness in cuisine, our love of spicy heat is the result of conditioning. The chili sensation mimics that of physical heat, which has been a constant element of flavor since the invention of the cooking fire: We have evolved to like hot food. The chili sensation also resembles that of cold, which is unpleasant to the skin but pleasurable in drinks and ice cream, probably because we have developed an association between cooling off and the slaking of thirst. But there’s more to it than that.

Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, became interested in our taste for heat in the 1970s, when he began to wonder why certain cultures favor highly spicy foods. He traveled to a village in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, to investigate, focusing on the differences between humans and animals. The residents there ate a diet heavy in chili-spiced food. Had their pigs and dogs also picked up a taste for it?

“I asked people in the village if they knew of any animals that liked hot pepper,” Dr. Rozin said in an interview. “They thought that was hilariously funny. They said: No animals like hot pepper!” He tested that observation, giving pigs and dogs there a choice between an unspicy cheese cracker and one laced with hot sauce. They would eat both snacks, but they always chose the mild cracker first.

Next, Dr. Rozin tried to condition rats to like chilies. If he could get them to choose spicy snacks over bland ones, it would show that the presence of heat in cuisine was probably a straightforward matter of adaptation. He fed one group of rats a peppery diet from birth; another group had chili gradually added to its meals. Both groups continued to prefer nonspicy food. He spiked pepper-free food with a compound to make the rats sick, so they would later find it disgusting—but they still chose it over chili-laced food. He induced a vitamin-B deficiency in some rats, causing various heart, lung and muscular problems, then nursed them back to health with chili-flavored food: This reduced but didn’t eliminate their aversion to heat.

In the end, only rats whose capsaicin-sensing ability had been destroyed truly lost their aversion to it. Dr. Rozin came to believe that something unique to humanity, some hidden dynamic in culture or psychology, was responsible for our love of chili’s burn. For some reason apparently unrelated to survival, humans condition themselves to make an aversion gratifying.

Not long after, Dr. Rozin compared the tolerances of a group of Americans with limited heat in their diets to the Mexican villagers’ tastes. He fed each group corn snacks flavored with differing amounts of chili pepper, asking them to rank when the taste became optimal and when it became unbearable.

Predictably, the Mexicans tolerated heat better than the Americans. But for both groups, the difference between “just right” and “ouch” was razor-thin. “The hotness level they liked the most was just below the level of unbearable pain,” Dr. Rozin said. “So that led me to think that the pain itself was involved: They were pushing the limits, and that was part of the phenomenon.”

In the human brain, sensations of pleasure and aversion closely overlap. They both rely on nerves in the brainstem, indicating their ancient origins as reflexes. They both tap into the brain’s system of dopamine neurons, which shapes motivation. They activate similar higher-level cortical areas that influence perceptions and consciousness.

Anatomy also suggests that these two systems interact closely: In several brain structures, neurons responding to pain and pleasure lie close together, forming gradients from positive to negative. A lot of this cross talk takes place close to hedonic hot spots—areas that respond to endorphins released during stress, boosting pleasure.

The love of heat was nothing more than these two systems of pleasure and pain working together, Dr. Rozin concluded. Superhot tasters court danger and pain without risk, then feel relief when it ends. “People also come to like the fear and arousal produced by rides on roller coasters, parachute jumping, or horror movies,” he wrote in the journal Motivation and Emotion—as well as crying at sad movies and jumping into freezing water. “These ‘benignly masochistic’ activities, along with chili preference, seem to be uniquely human.” Eating hot peppers may literally be a form of masochism, an intentional soliciting of danger.

Dr. Rozin’s theory suggests that flavor has an unexpected emotional component: relief. A 2011 study led by Siri Leknes, a cognitive neuroscientist then at Oxford University, looked at the relationship of pleasure and relief to see if they were, in essence, the same. Dr. Leknes gave 18 volunteers two tasks while their brains were scanned: one pleasant, one unpleasant.

In the first task, they were asked to imagine a series of pleasurable experiences, including consuming their favorite meal or smelling a fresh sea breeze. In the other, they were given a visual signal that pain was coming, followed by a five-second burst of 120-degree heat from a device attached to their left arms—enough to be quite painful but not enough to cause a burn.

The scans showed that relief and pleasure were intertwined, overlapping in one area of the frontal cortex where perceptions and judgments form, and in another near the hedonic hot spots. As emotions, their intensity depended on many factors, including one’s attitude toward life. Volunteers who scored higher on a pessimism scale got a stronger surge of relief than did optimists, perhaps because they weren’t expecting the pain to end.

The world’s hottest chili, according to the Guinness World Records, is the Carolina Reaper, developed a few years ago by Ed Currie. His website features videos of people eating the peppers, and they are studies in torture. As one man tries a bite, his eyes open with surprise, then his chair tips back and he falls on the floor. Another sweats up a storm and appears to be suffering terribly, but presses on until he has eaten the whole thing.

Watching these, it’s clear that whatever enjoyment might be derived from savoring chili flavors, true satisfaction comes only in the aftermath: the relief at having endured, and survived.

—Adapted from Mr. McQuaid’s “Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat,” to be published on Jan. 13 by Scribner.

Do we feel our prayers

In the ongoing controversy of questions regarding women and certain Jewish rituals which had traditionally been in the domain of men, I wanted to share a link to an opinion piece which I think transcends the conversation.  I want to be clear that I am not coming on against nor in favor of any of the particular ritual discussions at hand.  It is not my place on many levels to do such a thing.  Rather, I want to focus on something which I think is more fundamental.  One of the areas many in my generation struggle with is finding passion for Tefillah (prayer).  For some, it is because schools mandated morning prayer and would grade students (still unsure what criteria after all these years, though I served as a gabbai in High School and almost didn’t get my de facto A grade because I would talk when handing out honors).  For others, it is the nature of prayer being forced and not something that is taught as an expression of Ahavat Hashem (love of G-d).  Others, it was the speed of prayer, being unable to have the time to think and feel the words we are saying.  It is a shame because so many bright, capable otherwise practicing Jews find that Tefillah is one of those checkbox categories in religion.  I invite you to read the piece below and hear another’s thought on this topic.

Reigniting prayer’s passion

by Atira Ote

JANUARY 22, 2014, 3:39 PM 

Hashem works in mysterious ways and I am sure it is no coincidence that my daughter’s siddur play took place last night, the same day I had been writing an essay on women and tefillin and my own davening experiences when I was a girl. Last night’s celebration made me alter the direction of my piece. Perhaps at another time I will write about my personal experiences, which I curiously remember rather differently than those views quoted in current articles, but for now I feel there is a more pressing matter within this whole women and tefillin debate that is being carelessly overlooked.

The mesibat siddur (prayerbook party) was beautiful, fun, and moving! What enthusiasm the girls showed! Such glee they expressed while dancing for this book of prayer. Even though this is the third siddur play in a row for us as parents (B”H!), each time we are proud and excited anew. Each occasion is unique and each child brings his or her own distinctive personality to their individual experience.

The gleam in our daughter’s eyes, her smile so wide as she sang the words of her solo with such fervor, brought tears to my eyes. “Kabel eli et tefillotai ha’olot mibein sefatai, bahen akir l’cha toda, kabel b’ahava.” “Accept, my God, my prayers which emanate from between my lips. With them I acknowledge gratitude to you, please accept them with love.”

After a week of practicing her solo and the song, my six-year-old daughter turns to me in the car a few days before her performance and says, “Imma, why can’t it be ‘mibat sefatai,’ why does it have to be ‘mibein’? Can I change it?” I thought, wow. Wow that my daughter who is six years old is actually trying to understand the words she is reading. Wow that she wants it to be correct in gender; after all, she goes to an all-girl school and she is a girl, saying her lines as a girl davening to HKBH, in an only-girl’s siddur play.

Why, then, can’t the wording be in female person? What a logical question! Well, obviously, I explained the reason why what she was asking was in essence a misinterpretation (bein means between, not to be confused with ben, which means boy) and we both laughed and it was a great learning experience and a wonderful mother-daughter bonding moment.

Something more fundamental is at play here. Recently I attended a Shabbaton weekend with American modern Orthodox 18-years-olds who graduated from high school last year and out of 16 youths, only 6 went to shul. I hear similar stories from other places as well. Young people today seem to have little passion left for the purity of prayer. The contrast is stark. Little first graders are enthused, celebrating the siddur, super-excited about tefilla! Yet, these young adults seem to have little fire left in them. What happened?

Well, apparently, we forgot how we felt at our siddur plays. (And if you ever get the chance to crash one, I suggest doing it!) We can’t remember what it is like to be inspired in our daily dialogue with the Almighty. We are recklessly disregarding the pure passion and fervor these most impressionable first graders are displaying right in front of our eyes. It’s true that these kids are only six and seven years old and it is difficult for them to truly grasp the gravity of such an important commandment, but a few years later when they become bar and bat-mitzva these intense feelings are reinforced.

And it is we who must encourage this eagerness. We should be basking in the glory – all the nachat that these kids are giving us, all the love ofmitzvot our kids are expressing to us. We, as parents and teachers, should direct energy towards conveying a tone of “ahavat torah” (love of Torah) and transmitting a love of mitzvot. Seeing students who choose to do more Jewish observances in their daily lives could very well restore the passion these little faces revealed in first grade.

Instilling enthusiasm for davening in students is still a battle for most modern Orthodox day schools. Perhaps if schools were to commend, rather than ostracize, those students who actually exhibit a love for davening to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, including those girls who daven with tallit and tefillin out of genuine love of Torah and a desire to connect to Hashem, the battle may prove to be easier.

Facing a new situation may cause some initial anxiety for the school, but as with any new experience, the opportunity for deeper understanding and lasting chinuch (education) far outweighs any superficial resistance the school might encounter. It is in their best interest to allow girls who truly perform this mitzvah l‘shem shamayim and want to connect to Hashem in this meaningful way to do so in their school.

This concept is not a new one. Religious women have been performing time-bound mitzvot for a long time. They have been relating to mitzvot in ways that are permitted but are not always popular or publicly accepted, such as studying Torah, reading megilla, hearing shofar, sitting in a sukka, and davening with tallit.

Instead of praising these people, we are treating them with anger, suspicion, and contempt. Or, perhaps we just aren’t paying them enough attention. It is at the early stages in their lives that they need guidance. It is in these important years of elementary and high school when their connection to Hashem is cemented and their love for holy words are sealed. Our children start their Jewish adult lives craving inspiration when in reality the flame still burns inside them – it is the vigor they openly expressed years before as stars on stage! They need to be reminded of that zeal and we need to give them accurate messages about prayer, spiritual commitment, and connection to God.

Hashem works in mysterious ways and the second set of lines which my daughter recited aloud in front of everyone, was very poignant and fitting to this discussion. “Kama nifla! Eizo matana! Hasiddur shelanu mechil bakashot hamatimot l’chol yehudi, b’chol zman u’b’chol makom, gam lachem, v’gam li.” “How wonderful! What a gift! Our siddur incorporates prayers of supplication appropriate for all Jews, at all times and in any place, for you as well as for me.”

Talking to Hashem, knowing that our prayers, even in our own words, are always heard, believing faithfully that we always have a straight line to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and that even unanswered prayers are a gift, is something so essential, yet so neglected nowadays, it is frightful. There is a thirst, a desire and passion so strong when we are younger that must be nurtured, fostered, and cultivated with all the love and energy we can muster. That is our duty as educators, our responsibility as role models, and our jobs as parents.

Terror on Trial – WSJ

An excellent piece on the subject of putting terrorists on trial.  As we continue to await the trial of KSM, it is worth contemplating the differing perspectives on what a trial like his will look like.

Expect to hear a lot about Nuremberg in the months ahead. The war-crimes trials of leading Nazis, begun in that German city in 1945, will form an important subtext as we approach the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of 9/11, and his associates. The pretrial proceedings at Guantánamo may start as soon as March.

Since 9/11, America’s attempt to balance justice and national security has drawn protests both at home and abroad. Some of the criticism has been fair, but much of it ignores the dilemmas that any administration would face in dealing forcefully with 21st-century terrorists who, unlike the defendants at Nuremberg, have not yet been defeated. Few things are harder for democracies than to render justice to enemies whose aims are both irrational and non-negotiable.

The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be historic. It will address not just a group of thugs but the enduring human phenomenon of evil. Mutable and persistent, evil has not been discouraged by the progress of reason or the taming of nature. Evil reinvents itself in every age and is reinvigorated by mankind’s inevitable immaturity. Like the fascist ideology that the democratic world fought in the 1940s, the dogma of al Qaeda (and of the extremist Shiite dictators of Iran) is despotic, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and nihilist. Like the Nazis, they cannot be appeased.

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama invoked Nuremberg. He had studied the tribunal in law school and referred to it in the context of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, which gave Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention in federal court. Mr. Obama praised the opinion and linked it to the respect for due process, which he said, Nuremberg had exemplified. “During the Nuremberg trials, part of what made us different was even after those Nazis had performed atrocities that no one had ever seen before, we still gave them a day in court, and that taught the entire world about who we are.”

To which the most appropriate response is—up to a point. The top Nazis captured in 1945 were indeed given “their day in court.” But that court was a unique military tribunal, created specifically for the circumstances after V-E Day. The defendants were far better protected than they would have been in any Nazi court (or Soviet court, for that matter), but they certainly did not enjoy the rights of defendants in the U.S. The idea that top Nazis should have the same protections as those afforded to Americans by the U.S. Constitution never occurred to the jurists devising the rules for Nuremberg.

To some, Nuremberg will always be an example of “victors’ justice.” I believe that view is wrong and that the tribunal (where my father, Hartley Shawcross, was the chief British prosecutor) was a necessary and successful exercise of law. At Nuremberg, our civilization developed a vehicle to anathematize men imbued with evil.

Justice Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor and the architect of Nuremberg, put it well when he spoke of the regime that the accused at Nuremberg had served: “Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”

The scale and nature of the threats from fascism and Islamist extremism are different, but that same problem persists today. In trying both to prevent further atrocities by Islamist extremists, and to deliver justice to those detainees suspected of such crimes, President Obama has found himself, like President Bush before him, faced with decisions that test our ideals. He has been forced to shed many of his preconceptions.

On Sept. 30, 2011, drones high above Yemen targeted a car carrying Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic preacher—and an American citizen. A Hellfire missile killed Mr. Awlaki and another American jihadist travelling with him.

Mr. Obama said afterward that the successful attack, coming less than five months after the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, was “further proof al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven in Yemen or anywhere around the world.”

The decision to use a drone to kill American citizens in Yemen was a remarkable turnaround for a politician who had criticized almost every aspect of the “war on terror” waged by his predecessor in the Oval Office. But by fall 2010, it did not come as such a surprise. By then Mr. Obama had also authorized military trials (which he once condemned) to take place in Guantánamo (which he had promised to close).

There is no question that Mr. Awlaki was a remarkably dangerous man. Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents in 1971 and largely educated in the U.S., he spoke mellifluously and possessed a deep understanding of Western popular culture. His sermons were designed to encourage individual Muslims around the world to launch “lone wolf” attacks against all “infidels” and to persuade American Muslims to rise up against their government.

Over the Internet, Mr. Awlaki personally instructed Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, the American Muslim soldier who murdered 13 of his colleagues and wounded 30 more in a rampage at Fort Hood in November 2009. He helped to train the so-called “underpants bomber,” Farouk Abdulmutallab, who came close to blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

In 2010, Mr. Awlaki started to groom a British Muslim, Rajib Karim, who worked for British Airways, and instructed him to place a bomb on a flight to the U.S. Mr. Karim was arrested before the plot went far. Later that year, Mr. Awlaki’s group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, managed to get two bombs, disguised as printer cartridges, onto cargo planes bound for U.S. They were discovered and defused en route.

By this time, the U.S. government had decided that it had enough evidence to designate Mr. Awlaki an active terrorist threat who could be targeted. As the administration argued, over the protests of human rights groups, Mr. Awlaki was playing an operational role as part of the enemy forces covered by the legislation authorizing the use of military force that Congress had passed immediately after 9/11. Mr. Awlaki had made no attempt to surrender, and the U.S. was not able to arrest him.

As for the idea that his citizenship should give him protection from attack, it is worth recalling that in the case of Nazi saboteurs arrested in the U.S. in 1942 (the case of Ex Parte Quirin), two of them were U.S. citizens. They were nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. citizenship of “an enemy belligerent does not relieve him of the consequences of belligerency.”

Since 9/11, drones have provided a vast revolution in warfare. They have multiplied, as missile platforms and observers, and their technology is still rapidly advancing. Soldiers can now launch drones from backpacks, and the Pentagon is experimenting with drones the size of dragonflies.

Such technological developments raise new questions about the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, whose interpretation has dominated the waging of the war on terror. P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert in robotic warfare, points out that the Conventions were last effectively updated in 1949, at a time when the 45-rpm vinyl record was a hot new invention. The old laws, he argues, are struggling to keep up with high-tech weapons “like the MQ-9 Reaper, which is being used to target a 21st-century insurgent who is intentionally violating those laws by hiding in a mosque or a civilian house.”

Mr. Bush used drones sparingly to attack terrorism suspects. He is said to have feared the inevitable accusation of war crimes. By the time he left office, there had been just 44 drone strikes over five years, according to the New America Foundation, all of them in Pakistan. They are thought to have killed some 400 people.

After taking office in 2009, Mr. Obama swiftly expanded the use of drone attacks on suspected Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then in Somalia and Yemen. Drone strikes in Pakistan grew from 33 in 2008, Mr. Bush’s last year in office, to 53 in 2009. Altogether, there have been more than 240 drone attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with a death toll of more than 1,300.

The remarkable thing about the president’s reliance on drones is how little protest, until recently, it has aroused. Waterboarding may be deemed an abuse of a terrorism suspect’s rights, but an attack by a Predator drone results (in the Vietnam-era phrase) in “termination with extreme prejudice.”

Public acquiescence in these aerial killings demonstrates the way in which political and moral judgments can be driven by perceptions of personality and politics. But even Mr. Obama’s honeymoon had to come to an end. His policy of killing suspects rather than detaining and interrogating them has come under increased scrutiny, and not just in the case of Mr. Awlaki.

John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the State Department, argues that one of the Bush administration’s biggest mistakes was neglecting to secure international support for its novel counterterrorism policies. Unless Obama is careful, Mr. Bellinger says, his drone program could “become as internationally maligned as Guantánamo.”

“The trial of Khalid SheikhMohammed will addressnot just a group of thugs butthe enduring humanphenomenon of evil.”

As a senator and a presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized almost all of Mr. Bush’s decisions in the “war on terror.” Two days after his inauguration in January 2009, he ordered Guantánamo shut within a year, and that November his attorney general, Eric Holder, insisted that the main 9/11 suspects at Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would be put on trial in federal court in Manhattan.

Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, argued against acting ‘ambiguously or indecisively.’

Since discovering the complexities of fighting Islamist terror, Mr. Obama has abandoned many of his earlier positions. In March 2011, he signed an executive order allowing terrorist detainees to be held indefinitely at Guantánamo. He also agreed that the base’s recently constructed courthouse should be the venue for the military tribunals that he had set out never to allow there.

Brig. Gen. Mark Martins is to perform the task that Justice Robert Jackson did at Nuremberg. He was appointed last June by the secretary of defense to be the chief prosecutor of the military commissions, which were reformed by act of Congress in 2009.

This was, by all accounts, an inspired choice. A former infantryman who has thought deeply about the history of military tribunals, Gen. Martins recently won widespread praise for his work as commander of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan.

In some ways, his task is even more daunting than that of his illustrious predecessor in 1945. Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush-administration lawyer and the author of “The Terror Presidency,” says that Gen. Martins faces a much more difficult task in legitimating the tribunals than Justice Jackson did at Nuremberg.

For his part, Gen. Martins pointed out recently, in a speech to the American Bar Association, that the military courts, as now reformed, “incorporate all of those fundamental guarantees of a fair and just trial that are demanded by our values.” Anyone accused in them enjoys far more protections than the Nazi defendants had in 1945—indeed, more than in many respected criminal justice systems around the world. Anyone convicted also will have the ultimate safeguard under American law—the right of appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court.

Why not, then, just use the federal courts to try terrorism suspects? They can be used in many cases, Gen. Martins says, but military tribunals are more appropriate, in certain cases, for the trial of non-U.S. citizens who fight in no uniform and without obeying the rules of war—”unprivileged belligerents.”

While giving great protection to defendants, the rules of military tribunals also accord more protection to the government those defendants are accused of seeking to destroy. The rules prohibit the use of statements obtained as a result of torture, or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, but they take into account the challenges of intelligence-gathering in wartime operations overseas, do not require soldiers to give Miranda warnings to captured enemy forces, and allow an occasional hearsay statement, when it is the best available evidence from a now unavailable witness and the interests of justice are best served by considering it.

Referring to Nuremberg, Gen. Martins says that the new military tribunals cannot “make decisions to please the public or the Congress. Like our forebears, we are compelled to step back from ‘victor’s justice.’ This is what the rule of law is about. Sometimes various people or interests will not be happy. But in the end we can only do the right as we see the right…and trust that our efforts will stand the test of time.”


All wars involve choices between lesser evils. In a 1973 essay, the philosopher Michael Walzer described the politician who decides that he has to authorize torture to save lives. “His choices are hard,” Mr. Walzer wrote, “and he pays a price not only while making them but forever after.”

The Bush administration’s early post-9/11 decisions on Guantánamo and “enhanced interrogation” of some detainees (three were waterboarded) are believed to have provided life-saving intelligence, but each proved costly to the reputation of the U.S. Mr. Obama’s decision to kill many terrorism suspects rather than interrogate them has certainly disrupted plots and saved lives. But it carries similar costs.

This continuing crisis is not of America’s making. It stems in large part from the struggle within the Muslim world for the soul of Islam, of which the most brutal manifestation is the pitiless campaign of mass murder waged across the world by al Qaeda and its associates, most often against fellow Muslims.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, America’s commitment and sacrifices have been essential to the world’s ability to resist the forces of nihilistic aggression. That was certainly true in the war against fascism, and it is still true today. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has had to learn the hard way that, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, “we take and must continue to take morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.”

—Mr. Shawcross’s new book, “Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11 and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” will be published next week by PublicAffairs. His previous books include “Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict” and “Murdoch: The Making of a Media Empire.”

It is amazing how naive people can be – more Beit Shemesh

I think we are over-saturated by now with Beit Shemesh.  However, I do have to post one more piece (h/t Life in Israel) that just came my way.  The piece below will probably not shock people so much as reveal the sadness of how some in rabbinic positions respond to sickening and traumatic events.  I am glad there are people out there making sure these words are not allowed to stand.

A Guest Post by by Rabbi Dov Lipman


Attack me all that you want. I have been an activist, trying to set the city on a better course for years and people can disagree with me, even vehemently. That is fine and part of living in an open society. I accept it and never feel the need to respond. But when a local Rabbi attacks a little girl and her mother in the most vicious of ways, I cannot remain silent.

The following attack on little Naama and her mother, Hadassa, was penned by a local Rabbi. Everyone with a heart and soul should speak out against this distorted use of the platform given to religious clergy and his congregants should not only condemn him openly but should really think twice whether they want him to guide them in their personal and family lives.

Here is the quote:

“Poor 8 year old Naama Margolese. If my child was spat at, I would wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, give her a piece of her favorite chocolate, tell her there are bad men in the world, and in 10 minutes it is over. Waiting three months (what’s that again? The huge outcry was orchestrated three months after it happened? Huh?) to create an overreaction, and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school, and having all sorts of people tracking through her house to visit her as if they’re coming for neechum aveilim… If this poor kid gets traumatized, I’ll tell you why!”You almost have to read it again to make sure your eyes are not playing games with you because it is not fathomable that a person who has spent years studying Torah and connecting to God could ever even think of writing these words, let alone actually writing them and publicizing them.

Let’s dissect the paragraph.

Wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, giver her chocolate, and it is over? The writer clearly has no concept of the trauma little girls experience when being called “prutza” and “shiktza” and when they are spat at. Maybe children who are familiar with a world where violence and abuse are a part of life would be able to just move on, but in the Margolese home, the children are taught to respect other people and never raise a voice or condemn the actions of others. Therefore, it is very traumatic when a child in that type of home is exposed to this type of behavior. When children are being taught proper derech eretz, verbal assaults cannot simply be ignored. When children are taught respect, spit cannot simply be wiped away and forgotten.

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized something. This Rabbi never even came to the school to see, firsthand, what was happening. He probably subscribes to the camp that it is all an exaggeration. Isn’t there a concept that one cannot really have an opinion about something without actually experiencing it? The nerve to make light of what many girls, not just Naama, experienced without actually seeing it in person!

Let’s go further. “Waiting three months?” and “Three months after it happened? ” Rabbi, perhaps it is time to get your facts right before writing such a strong condemnation. In case you did not know, the extremists returned within the last few weeks! They returned with more people and with an organized bus! Our informants in RBS Bet told us that if there was not going to be some kind of strong response the extremists were going to escalate things until who knows what could have happened to a Jewish child, rachmana litzlan.
“To create an overreaction and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school?” Since when is thousands of Israelis wanting to come to defend a little Jewish girl an “overreaction?” Baruch Hashem, all of those “horrible anti-Torah secularists” have a Jewish pulse and, upon seeing the tears of this Jewish girl wanted to help. What a strong contrast with the reaction of this Rabbi who for months upon hearing about the traumatized girls responded with a message which seemed to convey, “What do you want from me?”

We continue. “All sort of people trecking through her house like neechum aveilim?” What a sick and distorted image. All one had to do was see the look on Naama’s face when MK Rabbi Amsalem gave her a siddur and tehilim (she davens from that siddur daily) to see how therapeutic and important this was for her. The same goes for the gift which Eli Friedman and the TOV party gave to her. These visitors are people who truly walk in the way of God and reach out to love other Jews instead of being defensive and writing nasty and soulless declarations. Perhaps in the divisive, extremist world visits of love and care feel like “nichum aveilim” but for the rest of the Jewish people they are actually quite pleasant and inspirational.

Finally, this “poor kid” will not be traumatized any longer. Her parents did what any loving parent would do and found a way to secure their daughter’s safety. In addition, her parents were able to show their daughter the beautiful side of a unified am yisrael and the beauty of true chareidim.

All sensible and caring people must do anything possible to condemn this Rabbi’s statements. But even more than that, we must work to make sure that people with this type of flippant attitude regarding verbal/physical abuse and assault and religious extremism not have any involvement in guiding Jewish children or their parents. Because when those “poor children” are turned off by what is presented to them as a soulless, uncaring, and extremist religion and their clergy not protecting them from abuse, no one will have to “tell you why.”

Misusing the Holocaust

I was refraining from this particular aspect of the Beit Shemesh conflict, but the latest report (see here (h/t failed messiah) compels me to address what might be more sickening.  As you will see from the report below, the same crazies involved in the disgusting behavior against other Jews are also protesting against their own, claiming that Israel is the equivalent to Nazi Germany.  The original protests, which might be the cause for the uproar from the majority of the Haredi community, took place in Israel last Sat. night.  Many posts have already addressed the horrific pictures of young, religious looking kids, posing the like the famous picture of the kid surrendering to the Nazis (see here).  My disgust with the latest report is beyond the misuse of the Holocaust.  My problem is that other  Jews, regardless of their insanity, marching and claiming Israel to be like Nazi Germany, are furthering negative rhetoric against Israel.  Look, we know the difference between Neturei Karta and Satmar (I think).  Yet, does the rest of the world.  I just wish these people would have the seichel to keep their political opinions to themselves.  Its bad enough we have press about gender bias, but we need another round of the Israeli government are Nazis.  Again, I place this back into the hands of the Haredi rabbinic establishment.  If statements had been made years ago, long before the crescendo of events we are watching, perhaps much of this could have been prevented.  Instead, now we are backpedalling and hoping that it can go away. 

Orthodox Jews to Protest Israel Wearing Yellow “Jude” Stars – TODAY

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Torah-true Jews will be gathering to demonstrate in front of Israeli consulates, in U.S.A., Canada and England. The protesters will don concentration camp clothing with the reviled “yellow star” pinned on their garments, to express their cry of desperation and to show solidarity with their brethren in the Holy Land, who demonstrated in Jerusalem this past Saturday night. Thousands of elders and children took to the streets of Jerusalem garbed in concentration camp clothing and yellow Stars of David pinned on their chests.

“The present incarceration of Torah-true Jews, beating etc. is not the sole event that brought the G-d-fearing Jews to such a desperate display”, said Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta International. “The present event is not an isolated event or some new policy of the State of Israel being perpetrated against the G-d-fearing religious community. It is only part of the long and ongoing battle between Zionism and the State of Israel with the Torah-true Jews.”

“The ideology of Zionism is both the transformation of Judaism from religion and subservience to the Almighty, to base material nationalism, and a plan to end our Heavenly-decreed exile through our own actions. Both of these concepts are totally contradictory to the true Jewish belief. The Almighty alone will bring our redemption. We are expressly forbidden to take any action to end exile.”

“Therefore, all the great sages and leaders of Judaism in past generations, have stood in total opposition to Zionism and the existence of the State of ‘Israel’. Zionism works with all its power to totally eradicate, Heaven forbid, these true Jewish beliefs. To Torah-true Jews, their Jewish beliefs take precedence over their lives. Therefore, these Jews have undergone a long chain of suffering, imprisonment and letting their blood be spilt in this battle. The present events are just one more link in the long chain of the Zionist campaign in their attempted abolishment of the true Jewish faith.”

“Therefore, our brethren in Jerusalem demonstrated their anguish and pain by wearing the yellow star and striped Holocaust clothes.”

“We stand with them in solidarity.”

“May we merit to see, soon in our days, the revelation of the glory of the Almighty, when all the nations will serve the Almighty in peace and harmony. Amen.”

Jewish Rabbis and laymen will demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulates, TODAY: Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEW YORK CITY: 800 second Avenue [between 42 and 43] at 3:00 pm, followed by a march to the United Nations [First and 43]

LONDON:  2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB, at 2:30 pm

MONTREAL: 1 Westmount Square, Westmount, Quebec, at 2:45 pm