GPS isn’t just for helping the terminally lost any more. Now, law enforcement officials are using the technology to track suspects of domestic violence and stalking. Michigan is the latest state to get on board — it’s even added an automated system that alerts the victims of the crime if the perp is nearby.

The biggest advantage of the new Michigan GPS system (the result of a grisly murder by a stalker ex-husband) over traditional protective orders is its ability to move the protective zone more freely. Traditionally, a suspect would be prevented from going within a certain distance of the victim’s home or work, but now, if the victim also wears a GPS, he or she will be protected since the protective zone follows them everywhere.

As we’ve discussed before, GPS is becoming increasingly useful to law enforcement, and we’re sure to see more of these innovative applications of the technology as it becomes more affordable and more powerful. [Source: CNN Via Wired]

Teh hats are tipping.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

By Daniel Ben-Tal   June 22, 2008

Regional tensions would be greatly diminished if we understood each other’s mindset, says University of Haifa clinical psychologist Dr. Ofer Grosbard. With this in mind, he devised Quranet, an attempt to translate the Koran into a set of social guidelines applicable to the contemporary world.

An educational tool that reveals the beauty of the Koran and its respect for human dignity, Grosbard’s project is envisaged as a bridge between the Islamic world and the West.

Everyone can find a Koranic answer to his or her educational questions says the bilingual Grosbard, who lives in a mixed Jewish-Arab quarter of Haifa and learned Arabic from his neighbors.

Grosbard is a clinical psychologist, author and Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He has written a widely applauded critique of the Israeli mindset entitled Israel on the Couch: the Psychology of the Peace Process, and a novel The Arab Within that was awarded the Hebrew Writers’ Association’s Book of the Year prize in 2000.

He came up with the idea for Quranet last year, while he was tutoring a course on developmental psychology to a group of 15 Bedouin graduate students of educational counseling.

“I taught them about Freud, Erikson… the people who developed western thinking. However, I had a feeling that they weren’t exactly connecting with what I was teaching,” Grosbard tells ISRAEL21c. “The group – 13 of them female students – almost thought as a unit. Within the Arab sector, the Bedouin are the most in need of help.”

One day last April, one of his students at the Oranim College, Bushra Mazarib – who earned her BA in computer sciences at the Technion before transferring to education – approached him after class.

“Bushra did something that is not behavior usual for a Bedouin – she told me what I was doing wrong,” Grosbard recalls. “‘Do you want to know the truth?’ she asked me. ‘Everything you’re telling us won’t help us as educational counselors in the Bedouin sector.’

“She told me that a parent may approach her and say that a demon has entered into her child, or some similar statement from that cultural background. What I was teaching them would be useless in such a case. I didn’t grasp it at first, so I asked her what would help.”

Her answer was simple: The Koran.

“I went home and thought about what she said. She’d thrown me a glove that I had to pick up, so I bought a Hebrew version of the Koran. I knew practically nothing about the Koran beforehand. I had skimmed though it before, and got the impression that it’s one long prayer, unlike the Jewish tanach with its built-in stories.”

Grosbard then devised an innovative assignment for his students, asking them to find quotes from the Koran that relate to the types of problems they expect to face. He gave each student two portions of the Koran to study.

“In a normal class, you give students work and they do it, but in this case they undertook the assignment with great enthusiasm,” says Grosbard. “The Koran has fortitude that we don’t know.”

The students returned with a list of passages that had meaning for them and Grosbard asked them to make up stories based on these passages. “They produced highly colorful, dramatic accounts of life,” he says. “Their emotions are in the open. I could never have written such stories, that I so enjoyed reading.”

Grosbard later added his own commentary to each story, from the psychological point of view.

Last summer he began editing the copious input. “The students wrote their pieces in Hebrew which is not their mother tongue, and needed several edits. They covered almost every subject. I divided the texts into issues such as violence, mourning loved ones, incest, how to deal with cheating partners, adolescence, treatment of fellow man, etc. Altogether, we address 330 questions.”

The outcome was a 600-page Hebrew manuscript published in book form in May by the Ben Gurion University publishing house, with introductions by three distinguished Sheikhs (including the founder of the Islamic movement in Israel). “This gave me legitimacy as a Jew to discuss the Koran. The Koran has beautiful texts, although they can be quite general in nature,” says Grosbard.

He believes the book is an attempt to understand the way of thinking of another culture. “There’s a great difference between our image of Arab society and what is written in the Koran. It’s a good, spiritual book that talks about mutual respect in a hospitable, tribal society. In the West, we don’t understand traditional collective thinking that places human respect at the center.”

At May’s Presidential Conference to celebrate 60 years of Israeli independence, Quranet was selected for an exhibition entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Spaces’ that highlighted new ideas, products and technologies that will shape the face of tomorrow.

The next stage will be to translate the book into Arabic and English, then upload the texts onto an interactive website. “To the best of my knowledge, no similar website or tool exists,” says Grosbard. “The students are already using the book daily as an educational aid, and say that it helps in indescribable ways.”

Grosbard says that he awaits an investor. “This project must reach the Internet if it is to help inter-faith dialogue – otherwise, it will remain virtual,” says Grosbard, noting that he lacks the $100,000 or so needed to translate the texts and establish such a website. “After all, there are 1.2 billion Moslems in the world…”


Originally published at You can comment here or there.

After a closer examination of a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology known as the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, on Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes.

Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a lost manuscript on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the first analog computer, was recovered more than a century ago in the wreckage of a ship that sank off the tiny island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Earlier research showed that the device was probably built between 140 and 100 B.C.

Only now, applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, have experts been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The latest research has revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar.

In the journal report, the team led by the mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, in Cardiff, Wales, said the month names “are unexpectedly of Corinthian origin,” which suggested “a heritage going back to Archimedes.”

No month names on what is called the Metonic calendar were previously known, the researchers noted. Such a calendar, as well as other knowledge displayed on the mechanism, illustrated the influence of Babylonian astronomy on the Greeks. The calendar was used by Babylonians from at least the early fifth century B.C.

Dr. Freeth, who is also associated with Images First Ltd., in London, explained in an e-mail message that the Metonic calendar was designed to reconcile the lengths of the lunar month with the solar year. Twelve lunar months are about 11 days short of a year, but 235 lunar months fit well into 19 years.

“From this it is possible to construct an artificial mathematical calendar that keeps in synchronization with both the sun and the moon,” Dr. Freeth said.

The mechanism’s connection with the Corinthians was unexpected, the researchers said, because other cargo in the shipwreck appeared to be from the eastern Mediterranean, places like Kos, Rhodes and Pergamon. The months inscribed on the instrument, they wrote, are “practically a complete match” with those on calendars from Illyria and Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu. Seven months suggest a possible link with Syracuse.

Inscriptions also showed that one of the instrument’s dials was used to record the timing of the pan-Hellenic games, a four-year cycle that was “a common framework for chronology” by the Greeks, the researchers said.

“The mechanism still contains many mysteries,” Dr. Freeth said. Among the larger questions, scientists and historians said the place of the mechanism in the development of Greek technology remained poorly understood. Several references to similar instruments appear in classical literature, including Cicero’s description of one made by Archimedes. But this one, hauled out of the sea in 1901, is the sole surviving example.


Originally published at You can comment here or there.

By Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman

This parashah, the third among those set on the eve of our forefathers entering the Land of Israel, is devoted almost exclusively to various aspects of settling the Land—that is, following a recapitulation of the various stations of the people’s journey in the desert, from which it derives its title, “travels.”  Thus, there is a general command to take possession of the land;  the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, outlined in detail, starting clockwise from the south-eastern corner near the Dead Sea;  a list of the princes charged with supervising the division of the Land among the different tribes;  the establishment of Levitical cities in each tribal territory;  the law of the cities of refuge;  and a rider to the “daughters of Zelophehad” rule granting daughters land-inheritance where there are no sons:  namely, that they must marry within their own tribe. 

While none of these mitzvot as such applies to future generations, the law of the cities of refuge (Num 35:9-34;  compare its reiteration in Deut 19:1-10, and the listing of the cities in Deut 4:41-43 and Joshua 20), set up as a place for unintentional murderers to flee, involves several significant principles.  There are two different rationales given for this somewhat peculiar institution:

On the one hand, it serves to protect the accidental killer from avengers, from members of his victim’s family who see themselves as performing the duty of goel ha-dam, lit., “redeemer of the blood.”  This notion is rooted in the idea that blood that has been spilled, even without malice forethought, cries out for revenge—a notion tied in perhaps with concepts of family honor and duty.  It is an almost cosmic law, perhaps connected with the Noachide verse that “he who spills the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be spilled,” or that spilled blood somehow contaminates the land.  In any event, the Torah seems to accept the avenger as almost a natural force;  there is a certain acceptance of the human impulse for vengeance, destructive and unruly as it may be, as a part of human nature which cannot be curbed by either education or legislation, and which even carries a certain primitive kind of justice.  Instead, the Torah is concerned with providing a safe haven for the unintentional manslaughterer.  This is in stark contrast to our own society, in which any avenger would be subject to the same sanctions as any other murderer, and people are taught to regard such vigilantism as a bad thing. 

In general, while trying to instill people with a certain degree of inner control over their more chaotic impulses, a strong conscience or “super-ego,” the Torah also legislates mechanisms to protect potential victims of such impulses, which in the final analysis it sees as part of human nature.  This outlook is also reflected in the halakhic rules controlling the potential for chaos in unfettered sexual instincts.  Rather than relying on inner restraints, on an internalized social code, to insure that men and women will behave properly in mixed social settings, there are strong rules against physical contact and yihud, so as to avoid situations in which temptation might arise or be acted upon. 

But there is a second aspect to the city of refuge as well, a more theoretical one:  namely, the tension between intentionality and action.  Is such a person to be considered a murderer at all?  On the one hand, he has caused another person to die:  his action, which resulted in bloodshed, is perhaps the worst sin a person can commit:  cutting short the life of another person, who is a unique embodiment of the Divine image.  On the other hand, it was unintentional, an accident;  his motivation and his heart were pure.  It is the sort if thing “that could happen to anyone.”  There’s no point trying to teach him to be gentle and non-violent, because he is so already.  Nevertheless, on some level the act he committed was a grave sin;  his confinement to the city of refuge is thus an act of atonement—a point suggested by the fact that he must remain there “until the  death of the high priest”—the central, symbolically exculpatory figure for the entire nation.

The underlying view implied in the institution of ir miklat is also found in the concept of shegagah, the sin-offering brought to atone for certain kinds of unintentional sin.  The idea implied here is that things are not “either-or”:  on one level, acts are significant in themselves, even if their result was totally unintended—particularly if its fatal consequences might have prevented by greater caution (e.g., in the case given, making certain that the axe-head was securely fastened to the handle);  on the other hand, without intentionality a person clearly cannot be said to “own” a given act;  hence, the Torah greatly diminishes the significances of acts done by mistake. 

In general, Judaism tends to be a religion of deed, not thought.  A person can meditate all day long about God, enter into a state of ecstasy contemplating His infinity and ineffability, but if he doesn’t stand up and recite Prayer, read the Shema, don tefillin, and so forth, he hasn’t discharged his duty of engaging in service of God.  As Habad and other Hasidic thinkers put it:  given that we are creatures with souls embodied in a garment of flesh, marked by the unique capacity for speech, our Divine service must be an amalgam of thought, speech, and deed.  In purely halakhic terms, too, the act takes ontological priority over its rationales (ta’amei hamitzvot) and is independent of it.  Or, to bring an example from the realm of human relations:  a man may be lovesick over a certain woman, standing in the street gazing at her window for hours, but if he doesn’t perform acts of love and caring towards her, she cannot know that she loves him.  All this is very different from today’s post-modern Zeitgeist, that seems to emphasize “consciousness” above all else, seemingly unaware of the pitfalls involved.

Yet on another level what makes us human is our consciousness, our intentionality, not our acts considered merely in themselves.  (See Avivah Zornberg’s discussion of the dilemma of the human condition, “swarming” vs. “standing,” in the opening chapter of her Genesis, The Beginning of Desire.)  Perhaps we can conclude by saying that, while both are important, ma’aseh is of prior concern;  while, regarding negative acts, absence of intent cannot but be a major mitigating factor. 


Originally published at You can comment here or there.

By Emanuel Feldman

The front-page headline in the New York Post was striking: “A-Rod brainwashed by Kabbala. Wife blames Madonna, sues for divorce.” I did a double take.

Who is A-Rod? He is Alex Rodriguez, the star third baseman of the New York Yankees, who commands a $300 million contract and is considered the best baseball player since Willie Mays.

Who is Madonna? She is the aging Hollywood pop star who has been dabbling in what she calls the secrets of the esoteric Kabbala and makes sure the world knows about her secrets.

What is Kabbala? The short answer is that it is the overall term for ancient Jewish mystical lore. The long answer is that it is the study of the cosmic ramifications of our behavior, of the hidden meanings behind the biblical text and of the almost inconceivable meticulousness with which human beings must align their actions with the demands of the Torah. That is to say, one cannot even begin the study of Kabbala unless one is thoroughly conversant with Torah, Talmud and the codes; is personally pious and dedicated to spirituality; and is deeply learned in the ways of God. Neither Madonna nor A-Rod seems quite to match these qualifications.

Were it not so sad, the image of the pop singer teaching Kabbala to the Yankee third baseman could be a comic invention – the once-impregnable fortress of Kabbala overrun by fools and miscreants.

This concealed and mystery-laden discipline, which represents hiddenness and quiet meditation, has reached the nadir of its millennia-long history by being dragged onto the headlines of a garish and sensationalist New York newspaper. The unkindest cut of all is that the headlines link Kabbala with two individuals who are not even Jewish and certainly have no Judaic learning whatsoever, who cannot read or understand a Hebrew word, who cannot even pronounce the word “Kabbala” correctly, who know nothing of its provenance, and whose closest encounter with things Jewish is the corner deli. This transcends ludicrous; it is absurd, grotesque and farcical. It is, in a word, unadulterated lunacy.

WHAT ATTRACTS the rich and famous to Kabbala? First and foremost are some very creative modern witch doctors – medicine men who promote it the way elixirs and potions and snake oil were once peddled to a gullible public. These pitchmen claim that there are no prerequisites to learning Kabbala and that it demands no personal obligations or responsibilities. This is a powerful mix: You unlock the secrets of life, attain peace of mind and you don’t have to invest anything of yourself into it. There are no restrictions on the way you live, no thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots, no refraining from any behaviors that you enjoy, no withdrawal from things you desire, no ongoing study or prayer requirements, no arduous paths of self- discipline.

Just pay a nominal membership fee, read a pamphlet or two, and you’re in. Occasionally you simply sit in front of a lit candle, meditate, chant a few mantras and – oh yes, wear a red string around your wrist, like Madonna does. (The string is on special this week at your friendly Kabbala Center for $29.95 plus shipping and handling. Also available this week only at special prices are incense, soaps, holy water and energy drinks.)

Why engage in a strenuous climb all the way to the top of a mountain in Nepal to attain serenity from a guru, when with much less effort you can walk around the block and drop in to your convenient neighborhood Kabbala Center in Los Angeles or New York or other cities of your choice?

BUT WHY are celebrities especially attracted to such quackery? Perhaps because these people are the least serene and therefore the most vulnerable of all. They have been aiming all their lives at celebritydom and all its attendant appurtenances: The limitless money, the adulation and genuflection of the masses, the fulfillment of every whim and desire, the huge mansions and servants and fawning assistants and yes-men, the power and the influence.

And now, after struggling and clawing their way up to the top of the greasy pole, they find it to be an empty shell. Inside their own souls, in the dead of night, there still lurks a hollowness, a desire for meaning and purpose, a yearning for a life that transcends the crassness that surrounds them. Is this what I have striven for all my life? Is that all there is?

Some react to this inner yearning by resorting futilely to drugs; others to a restless, never-ending whirl of adventures and even more material pleasures, which yields up even more frustration. A few of the more sensitive ones find meaning in doing good works, worthwhile endeavors which bring them some inner satisfaction and fulfillment. Most, however, seek shortcuts to ease the sense of emptiness that besets them.

Enter Kabbala – which, they are told, can painlessly unlock their hidden selves and make them feel good. But – as the life of Madonna herself attests – tranquility continues to elude them. She is engaged in a constant, headlong rush for publicity and notoriety to satisfy her insatiable needs for recognition. She is eminently successful with the headlines, as per the A-Rod affair. But inner peace continues to elude her. For there are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile in life: The concert pianist has practiced countless years; the outstanding athlete has worked at his skills for a lifetime (ask A-Rod); the great scholar has invested endless hours of day and night labor on his studies; the truly spiritual person has worked at it for decades. Madonna herself surely worked hard to become a pop-star personality. Not even pseudo-Kabbala can grant serenity without some personal investment of self-discipline and spirituality.

HERE IS some non-mystical advice. A-Rod, forget Kabbala. Go back to being the best human being you can be. Go back to your wife and children. Take them to church with you. Give 10 percent of your earnings to good charities. Help those in need. Forget the incense, holy soap and the false promises of inner peace. Be the best Alex Rodriguez you know how. You will be a much happier man. And your batting average will undoubtedly improve.

Madonna: Forgive me for using a non-kabbalistic but Yiddish phrase – enough already! There comes a time when getting yet another headline is simply not worth it. You are almost 50. It is time to act your age. Remove the red string from your wrist and enter the ranks of gracefully aging ex-movie stars. Join the church choir. You too will find that tithing your earnings to legitimate and worthwhile charities and devoting your energies to them will give you some of the tranquility that you obviously yearn for. Drop the Kabbala the same way you drop boyfriends. Let your fans remember you as a great entertainer and not as a gullible dilettante.

The object lesson is the same for the rest of us ordinary non-celebrities: Beware of fast-food religion and drive-in spirituality.



Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Hi all:

I’ve got about an hour and a half before work, and I figure I’ll post an update. I’ve been reading about custom groups or whatever it’s called, and I think I may create one for certain posts. I think it’s cool that LJ offers us that extra level of security. Sure, I could implement this at Customerservant too, and I may do that at some future point, but that’s going to require some hacking and general backendiness that I don’t have time for this morning. I’m still kind of sleepy, and I think I’d love to ban Monday from the calendar. The weekend was way too short. Mom came to visit, and given the potential for drama, the visit went off splendidly. We had steaks and watched Borat, and pulled an all-nighter Friday night, which meant I slept for a large part of the day on Saturday. I did the grocery shopping Saturday night, and just generally lazed around yesterday as well, but the weekend was still way too short. I’d love to take a three-day weekend. Well, that’s all for now. I’ll update later.

Fisher-Price walkie-talkie picked up drivers’ strip club, drug

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A West Virginia mother is seeking a recall of a
popular walkie-talkie after her 3-year-old’s toy apparently
intercepted a profanity-laced conversation between truckers about
drugs and strip clubs.

Deborah Pancaro, 34, said she contacted Fisher-Price after she heard
a conversation in which a man said “10-4″ and other things that led
her to believe the device was relaying a CB radio conversation.

“They said we should go smoke some weed, and were talking about being
in a strip bar, some really explicit things,” Pancaro said Thursday.
The walkie-talkie is sold exclusively at Wal-Mart and allows children
to role-play animal rescues like the Diego character does on the
cartoon series “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!”

The walkie-talkie is supposed to have a range of about 20 feet, but
Pancaro said she heard one of the voices say he was driving on the
Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 275 miles north of Huntington.

Pancaro, who bought the toy on Aug. 2, said she sent a letter to
Fisher-Price, urging it to either fix the toy so it wouldn’t pick up
CB chatter or pull the product from the shelves.

Fisher-Price apologized for Pancaro’s “disappointing experience” and
has made two unsuccessful attempts to contact her since Wednesday,
spokeswoman Juliette Reashor said in an e-mail to The Associated

With a limited number of operating frequencies available for
radio-type walkie-talkies, she said they occasionally will pick up
transmissions from other products.

Though the product has not been recalled, Wal-Mart says on its Web
site that it is being discontinued. A spokeswoman for the company
based in Bentonville, Ark., said Thursday she would look into the

Pancaro said she planned to return Fisher-Price’s call later Thursday.

“It’s not about the money. I’d just hate for little kids to be
hearing things like that, and I thought maybe they didn’t know.”


Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Well, it’s just after 03:00, on Sunday, and I’m still up. I’m writing this post from the laptop, partly to test out the email and partly because it’s been a little while since I’ve updated in any substantial way and so I figured might as well. Ever since my Mom visited, my sleep schedule has been way out of whack, but that’s a problem I always have to be on the watch for. If left to my own devices, I will stay up all night and sleep during the day, or at least most of it. Obviously, this plays havoc with the work schedule, because in most cases, (especially mine), You’re expected to get up and work something that resembles normal hours. In the technology department, I’ve switched from DSL to cable, because the DSL has turned out to be a lot less stable than it should be, even in the case of consumer accounts, and I have a business account. Well, I say switched, but I haven’t canceled the account yet because I’m not about to cough up the excessive contract termination fee just to get out of paying $34.99 each month. So what I’m going to do is switch the phone to the cable’s “digital” (VOIP) phone service, kill the phone part of the account, and pay the $34.99 until the contract ends. I don’t like it, but I guess I’ll have to just deal. Another thing I have to deal with technology-wise is the unforeseen consequence of my network being disabled since the cable company gives separate IP addresses for each system. I had forgotten when I was setting everything up that they were only going to give me one IP initially, and so I tacked on two more since I needed one immediately for the phone for work and the laptop. So I have three IPs, everything gets net connectivity, but no network since everything’s on separate IPs. So a router purchase is in my future, which will fix this problem. I’ve been saying I was going to do that for months now, but have been able to put it off since I have a hub, but the days of putting it off are now over. But the speeds I’m getting seem to be more stable for now, and faster, so all and all I can’t complain. Since this post has sat on my screen for almost an hour now, I’ll end it here. Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

All you have to do is buy a doctor’s note. 
Yes, you read that right, the business of selling pre-written reports and papers to high school and college students has come of age. 
The company says that it’s fake doctor’s notes are meant to be used as novelties, but as hard as I wrack my brain, I can’t come up with a single use they’d have other than hoodwinking the boss. 
Note to anyone considering using this service: Getting one of your doctor friends to write a note for you is cheaper and more convenient. 

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do.

  • 09:15 New blog post: you Too Can Skip Work, For Only $38!
  • 09:45 Watching a documentary on service dogs on National Geographic
  • 10:54 We’re inching towards Fall. Days are getting shorter, and it’ll be a chilly 88 today.
  • 15:40 ActiveSync deleted a partnership and created a new one, destroying all data. Fail!

Originally published at You can comment here or there.