Daily Archives: July 20, 2007

Church of England Releases ‘Harry Potter’ Guide for Youth

Christian Post Reporter | Jul 19, 2007

The resource has creative ideas for using the Potter books as a basis for Christian teaching

By Eric Young

To capitalize on the “Potter” mania that is sweeping across the world, the Church of England has released a guide on how to evangelize using the popular “Harry Potter” phenomenon.

The guide’s author, Owen Smith, is a youth worker at St. Margaret’s Church in the United Kingdom and also wrote “Mixing it Up with the ‘Simpsons’” – a book that was released earlier this year by the Church of England’s publishing company in hopes of showing how Christianity is relevant to life today through issues tackled in the popular U.S. TV cartoon series.

In his latest work, “Mixing it Up with Harry Potter,” Smith enables youth leaders to draw parallels with daily life and help young people discuss ”big issues.”

“Using film scenes in which the characters make tough decisions to prompt discussion about moral choices and extracts from the books that demonstrate the power of words and their impact on others, the resource has creative ideas for using the Potter books as a basis for Christian teaching,” the Church of England announced in a press release.

Other ideas in the book include discussing stereotypes of what is ”normal” to examine how living a Christian life might cause a young person to stand out from their peers.

“The excitement and anticipation generated by the Harry Potter books show just what a great storyteller J. K. Rowling is,” said Diocese of Oxford Bishop John Pritchard, according to the Church of England. “Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own, Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all.”

From theological concepts such as sacrifice and mercy, to everyday issues such as fears and boasting, each of the guide’s 12 sessions reportedly provides a basis for an hour’s discussions and activities. The sessions include Bible verses that present the Christian perspective on the theme, and prayer activities drawing on the topic.

“Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners,” Pritchard noted. “There’s nothing better than a good story to make people think, and there’s plenty in the Harry Potter books to make young people think about the choices they make in their everyday lives and their place in the world.”

For years now, Christians have been split on whether the Harry Potter novels have a negative influence on a person’s faith, in particular that of youth. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr, George Carey described the series as “great fun and a serious examination of good and evil.”

Pope Benedict XVI, however, has taken the opposite view and lambasted the megahit fantasy series, describing it as “deeply distorting Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”

In his introduction, the author of the newly released guide acknowledges that some Christians have expressed concerns over the influence of Harry Potter, but argues that engagement with the phenomenal success of the series is more productive than criticizing it from the sidelines.

“These sessions draw parallels between events in the world of Harry and his friends, and the world in which we are seeking to proclaim the gospel to young people,” Smith writes. “The magic in the books is simply part of the magic that J. K. Rowling has created, in the same way that magic is part of the world of Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis.

“To say, as some have, that these books draw younger readers towards the occult seems to me both to malign J. K. Rowling and to vastly underestimate the ability of children and young people to separate the real from the imaginary,” he adds.

As publication approaches for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter book, another “Potter” frenzy is expected to explode following last week’s release of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth movie from the series.

“Mixing it Up with Harry Potter” is hoping to ride on the wave and is now available for churches to purchase from a range of Christian and general booksellers. The book is designed for use with 9-13 year olds.

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Airports to scan eyes, heartbeat, breathing, behavior and brainwaves to decide if you are a terrorist

Wired Blog | Jul 16, 2007

Homeland Security Sees Lasers and Heart Sensors in the Future of Anti-Terror Screening

By Ryan Singel

The cutting-edge tech folks at Homeland Security don’t like screening lines that have x-ray machines any more than you do. That’s because they seek x-rays as something shoe salesmen used to use measure your foot size. X-rays aren’t sexy. Lasers are cooler. Add some machine learning and you might get close to cool enough for these guys.

future_airport_scanning_hallway

That’s why the Advanced Research Project Agency (HSARPA) wants to build a system that fuses information from remote eye, heart, breath and brain sensors and lasar radar to decide if you are a terrorist before letting you on that flight to Las Vegas. The fuser will be the brains of the Future Attribute Screening Technology Project.

And HSARPA wants the fuser to be a wicked smart learner. The group is so intent on bringing on the future, it is currently soliciting information from outside groups in hopes of making it show up faster.

Persons involved in or planning to be involved in possible malicious or deceitful acts will show various behavioral or physiological abnormalities. Though these signs can, at times, be detected by trained observers, they often go undetected and even when detected, are not quantified in any measurable way.

[Q]uantifiable inputs may include cardiovascular, respiration, infrared, lidar (ed. Note: lasar radar) , video, audio, eye tracking as well as other promising technology capable of providing behavioral indicators.

The goal is to take the individual outputs of the distinct sensors and combine them into a decision matrix in order to provide a single decision.

So that’s it fliers and Super Bowl goers, DHS has seen the future of security: it’s a world where you get to keep your shoes on through security if you think pure thoughts and breathe like a yogi. Or at least, pure enough thoughts to fly under the lidar. That is, until the lidar learns to get lower.

If you are pretty sure you know how to make a whipper-snapper lidar-cardiovascular fusion engine, send no more than 10 pages in Word doc format by August 31 to margo.graves ATSIGN dhs.gov. Better yet, drop it in the comments. The server logs say DHS comes around here pretty often.

Ron Paul emerges as GOP’s unlikely rock-star candidate

Las Vegas Sun | Jul 18, 2007

Long-shot libertarian iconoclast pulls in surprising cash totals, eclectic young crowds

by Michael J. Mishak

LAS VEGAS — The punk-band members, with spiked hair, tattooed arms and piercings, stood with a crowd of more than 300 and cheered at the rock star on stage, especially when he called for abolishing the Federal Reserve — you know, the banking system that for nearly a century has helped stabilize the U.S. economy, give or take a Great Depression.

Presidential candidate Ron Paul didn’t stop with the Fed. The devout and suddenly popular libertarian-running-as-a-Republican also wants to repeal the Patriot Act. (More cheering.) And the IRS and NAFTA-like trade deals. (Loud applause.) And bring home American troops, all of them, from Iraq and from every last spot on the globe. (Standing ovation.) And that national ID card, forget about it.

What the crowd heard was the testimony of a carved-in-granite libertarian who disdains the a la carte politics and deal-making of mainstream candidates, a physician whose political beliefs exist at that whiplash point on the political spectrum where the far right meets the far left.

Abolish the IRS, the Fed, the Patriot Act? Is that libertarian or a lefty anarchist?

The crowds he’s drawing across the country are often an unusual mix of 20- and 30-something lefties and righties. Some are drawn to his beliefs. But many said that they admire him most for sticking to a clear set of principles, even if they disagree on some issues.

“He’s consistent,” said Jennifer Reilly, a 23-year-old student at the College of Southern Nevada who attended a recent rally here. “I actually believe everything he says.”

Thus Paul has become the early surprise of the 2008 campaign.

Beyond the consistency, he is filling a void in a Republican field dominated by mainstream candidates who are reluctant to break ranks with President Bush. He’s the only Republican who opposes the war in Iraq. (“We just marched in. We can just march out.”)

Paul describes himself as a strict constitutionalist, but his views can be traced to the late Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP presidential nominee and father of the modern conservative movement.

As Paul puts it: “Freedom is popular.”

“I agree with his message of freedom and limited government,” said Jennifer Terhune, a 22-year-old dental-hygiene student in Reno. “People are dependent on the government for everything, and they need to start standing up for themselves. The country is getting so far away from that.”

Paul raised $640,000 in the first quarter of the year, a paltry sum compared with his party’s front-runners. But when the second quarter closed last month, Paul had $2.4 million cash on hand, besting Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Pentagon Plots Digital “Crystal Ball” to “See the Future” in Battle

Wired Blog | Jul 19, 2007

deep_green_darpa_3

“Blitzkrieg” will quickly model sets of alternatives, while “Crystal Ball” will take information currently coming into a headquarters to figure out which scenarios are the most likely to happen, and which plans are likely to work best.

By Noah Shachtman

Darpa, the Pentagon’s way-out research arm, is looking to design a software suite that predicts the future for battlefield commanders. At the heart of the package: A digital “Crystal Ball” that forecasts how a mission is going to turn out, before it’s done. No, I am not kidding.

The overall, three-year program is called “Deep Green.” Its goal is to “allow the commander to think ahead, identify when a plan is going awry, and help develop alternatives ‘ahead of real time.'” If it works out the way agency officials hope (a very big if), Deep Green will enable officers to out-hustle and out-think any potential foes — and do all that planning and analysis with a quarter of the staff that it takes today.

Deep Green has a half-dozen different interlocking components, including a “Sketch to Plan” program that reads a commander’s doodles, listens to his words, and then “accurately induces” a plan, “fill[ing] in missing details.” That allows an officer “to specify an option at a coarse level, then move on to the next cognitive task.” A related program, “Sketch to Decide” allows a commander to “see the future” by producing a “comic strip” to represent his possible options in a given situation. That may “sound exotic,” the Agency notes. But “since the 1970s (and perhaps earlier), there have been novels and game books in which the reader is asked to make a decision and then is directed to a different page or paragraph, depending on the choice made.”

To make these warzone versions of choose-your-own-adventure novels, Darpa proposes two pieces of software. “Blitzkrieg” will quickly model sets of alternatives, while “Crystal Ball” will take information currently coming into a headquarters to figure out which scenarios are the most likely to happen, and which plans are likely to work best.
Crystal Ball will use this estimate to nominate to the commander futures at which he/she should focus some planning effort to build additional options/branches. Crystal Ball will identify the trajectory of the operation in time to allow the commander to generate options before they are needed.

Darpa believes these kind of clairvoyant tools are needed, because some well-worn martial concepts have been proven obsolete by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, the “venerable Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) loop is no longer viable for an information-age military.” To fight a fast-moving foe, these four tasks have to now happen all at once. That’s the goal of Deep Green.

The Observe (execution monitoring) and Orient (options generation and analysis) phases run continuously and are constantly building options based on the current operation and making predictions as to the direction the operation is taking. When something occurs that requires the commander’s attention or a decision, options are immediately available. Ideally, the OO part of OODA is done many times prior to the time when the commander must decide. When the planning and execution monitoring components of Deep Green mature, the planning staff will be working with semi-automated tools to generate and analyze courses of action ahead of the operation while the command concentrates on the Decide phase. By focusing on creating options ahead of the real operation rather than repairing the plan, Deep Green will allow commanders to be proactive instead of reactive in dealing with the enemy.

Robotic Covert Surveillance Insect Takes Off for the First Time

ABC News | Jul 19, 2007

By Rachel Ross

fly_robot

The Harvard-bred robot weighs only 60 milligrams and has a wingspan of three centimeters.  (Robert Wood)

Researchers at Harvard have created a robotic fly that could one day be used for covert surveillance and detecting toxic chemicals.

A life-size, robotic fly has taken flight at Harvard University. Weighing only 60 milligrams, with a wingspan of three centimeters, the tiny robot’s movements are modeled on those of a real fly. While much work remains to be done on the mechanical insect, the researchers say that such small flying machines could one day be used as spies, or for detecting harmful chemicals.

“Nature makes the world’s best fliers,” says Robert Wood, leader of Harvard’s robotic-fly project and a professor at the university’s school of engineering and applied sciences.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding Wood’s research in the hope that it will lead to stealth surveillance robots for the battlefield and urban environments. The robot’s small size and fly-like appearance are critical to such missions. “You probably wouldn’t notice a fly in the room, but you certainly would notice a hawk,” Wood says.

Recreating a fly’s efficient movements in a robot roughly the size of the real insect was difficult, however, because existing manufacturing processes couldn’t be used to make the sturdy, lightweight parts required. The motors, bearings, and joints typically used for large-scale robots wouldn’t work for something the size of a fly. “Simply scaling down existing macro-scale techniques will not come close to the performance that we need,” Wood says.

Some extremely small parts can be made using the processes for creating microelectromechanical systems. But such processes require a lot of time and money. Wood and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, needed a cheap, rapid fabrication process so they could easily produce different iterations of their designs.

Ultimately, the team developed its own fabrication process. Using laser micromachining, researchers cut thin sheets of carbon fiber into two-dimensional patterns that are accurate to a couple of micrometers. Sheets of polymer are cut using the same process. By carefully arranging the sheets of carbon fiber and polymer, the researchers are able to create functional parts.
Other researchers have built robots that mimic insects, but this is the first two-winged robot built on such a small scale that can take off using the same motions as a real fly. The dynamics of such flight are very complicated and have been studied for years by researchers such as Ron Fearing, Wood’s former PhD advisor at the University of California, Berkeley. Fearing, who is building his own robotic insects, says that he was very impressed with the fact that Wood’s insect can fly: “It is certainly a major breakthrough.” But Fearing says that it is the first of many challenges in building a practical fly.

14 European states assisted CIA to establish secret jails

PanARMENIAN Network | Jul 17, 2007

cia_prisonsAmerican secret jails existed in Italy and Poland, member of the European Parliament Claudio Fava stated. “The information that we obtained, gives us serious grounds to suppose that there existed secret jails on territories of Italy and Poland, where alleged terrorists were kept,” Fava said to a press conference in Brussels dedicated to the results of an investigation on CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) secret jails in Europe. He said, 14 European states have assisted the United States in establishing secret jails in Europe.

“We have found out 14 European governments, which helped the USA to carry out investigations and establish secret jails, existence of which contradicts to the Geneva Convention,” the parliamentarian said. He stressed, according to information, which owns the commission, European countries in rare cases refused to cooperate with the US CIA on this issue.

He also said, Romania has not responded to questions sent by the commission, which was carrying out the investigation, RIA “Novosti” reports.

Police Forced Pregnant Woman to Lay on Her Stomach

KMBC TV | Jul 19, 2007

Pregnant Woman: Police Used Racial Profiling

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A pregnant woman who claims Independence police stopped her on Interstate 70 and made her lie on her belly as cars sped by has filed a complaint alleging racial profiling.

Yvette Hayes, who is principal of a Kansas City school, said police stopped her Friday night.

Authorities said her green Jeep Cherokee was thought to have been involved in several break-ins and thefts.

Police said they made the stop after getting a call from security guards at the J.C. Penney Store on 39th Street about a green Jeep.

“I told him that I’m pregnant; I’m almost six months pregnant,” Hayes said.

She said officers still made her lie on her stomach.

“It was humiliating. I was horrified. I was in fear for my life,” Hayes said.

Dr. Jerry Wolfskill, director of the Johnson County Police Academy and a former officer, looked at dashcam video of the police stop.

“You can tell she’s obviously upset,” Wolfskill said. “I can understand the woman being so upset about what happened, because she knows she didn’t do anything wrong, but the police officer didn’t know that.”

The tape also has officers trying to console Hayes’ two daughters who were in the car with her that night.

Police said the dashcam video is farther away than usual because the dashcam equipment in the cruiser closest to Hayes’ car was not working on Friday night.

Wolfskill said the officers may have been doing the right thing if they had good reason to think the car they were stopping was involved in a felony.

“If that’s the procedure that they’re taught and they implement that procedure in every car stop, then that would be, yes,” Wolfskill said.

“Even with a pregnant person?” KMBC’s Maria Antonia asked.

“Even with a pregnant person,” Wolfskill said.

He said that at the police academy, they teach officers to order people to their knees, rather than make them lie on their stomachs. However, he said a kneeling suspect can be more risky for the officer.

Hayes has filed a complaint with the city of Independence and is talking to an attorney about possible legal action.

Hayes said a doctor is monitoring the health of her baby.

Meanwhile, Independence police are investigating. The chief said it appears that procedure was followed.