Iran issues catalogue of appropriate men’s hairstyles


“His hair feels so nice!”

Iran’s culture ministry has released a catalogue of acceptable hairstyles for men to help them avoid “decadent Western cuts”…

The pictures of mostly clean-shaven male models sporting short hair, some styled with gel, are contained in a “journal of Iranian hairstyles approved by the ministry of (culture and Islamic) guidance”.

“The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians’ complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law,” said Jaleh Khodayar, who is in charge of a Modesty and Veil Festival later this month where they are to be promoted.

“We are happy that the Islamic republic of Iran’s government has backed us in designing these hairstyles,” she said, adding that a catalogue of haircuts for men would soon be published.

Iranian police carry out regular morality crackdowns, arresting and warning women in figure-hugging short coats and flimsy headscarves as well as men sporting spiky hair and tight, low-slung jeans…

Several barber shops have reportedly been shut down and penalised in recent years for offering “decadent Western cuts.”

Conservative clerics have called for firmer action against un-Islamic dressers and hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came under fire last month for expressing opposition to a tough police crackdown on immodest attire.

Are you clear, now, about the differences between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians?

Because I’m not.

USA.gov launches 17 mobile apps

USA.gov has unveiled a slew of free mobile apps that provide information about product recalls, most-wanted criminals and other federal government information and services.

Most of these tools aren’t standalone software; instead, they use information from interactive websites optimized to work well in “microbrowsers,” the small-size, limited-functionality web browsers that come with many mobile phones.

As far as access to government is concerned, mobile-friendly websites are a very good thing. That’s because…the vast majority of U.S. mobile phones in use are not smartphones with full-featured browsers. Also, mounting wireless network congestion can make standard websites frustrating to use on smartphones.

You don’t need a smartphone, a data plan or even a high-speed data connection…to use a WAP site, just a phone with a mobile web browser and an ordinary cell network connection.

There are 17 apps listed on Apps.USA.gov. Twelve of the USA.gov apps are available as WAP sites, and most of these (nine) are available only as WAP sites.

iPhone apps: The FBI Most Wanted app, the NASA app, the BMI calculator and the White House app are available only as iPhone apps. Two other apps (MyTSA and U.S. Postal Service Tools) offer iPhone versions in addition to WAP sites.

Two Android apps: Product Recalls and UV Index

One BlackBerry app: Only the UV Index app has a BlackBerry version.

Knock yourselves out, gang. They’re limited to smartphone apps; so, I’ll wait till the iPad versions appear.

Motorists hit jackpot with coins on highway

It wasn’t exactly pennies from heaven but it was perhaps the next best thing: a truck carrying 2.5 million euros in coins overturned on a highway in southern Italy and motorists picked up the money like mushrooms.

In the accident, the truck’s rear door popped open and what followed must have seemed like a massive slot machine win.

Before police arrived, motorists stopped their cars and made off with about 10,000 euros in one and two euro coins being transported from the Italian mint to local banks.

The story and pictures made the front page of many Italian papers on Tuesday alongside grim articles about the coming austerity budget that will force many to make sacrifices.

One called it “The miracle of the coins.”

I’d be tempted to call it something matching theft. But, my ethics would likely be as frail as anyone else in that situation.

Once I made certain the driver was OK.

Tax-exempt Christian charities aid illegal Israeli settlements

Flying Spaghetti Rapture

Twice a year, American evangelicals show up at a winery in this Jewish settlement in the hills of ancient Samaria to play a direct role in biblical prophecy, picking grapes and pruning vines.

Believing that Christian help for Jewish winemakers here in the occupied West Bank foretells Christ’s second coming, they are recruited by a Tennessee-based charity called HaYovel that invites volunteers “to labor side by side with the people of Israel” and “to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in Yeshua, messiah…”

“These people are filled with ideas that this is the Promised Land and their duty is to help the Jews,” said Izdat Said Qadoos of the neighboring Palestinian village. “It is not the Promised Land. It is our land.”

HaYovel is one of many groups in the United States using tax-exempt donations to help Jews establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories — effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, widely seen as a necessary condition for Middle East peace.

The result is a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas…

The use of charities to promote a foreign policy goal is neither new nor unique — Americans also take tax breaks in giving to pro-Palestinian groups. But the donations to the settler movement stand out because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government. The Internal Revenue Service declined to discuss donations for West Bank settlements. State Department officials would comment only generally, and on condition of anonymity.

And if you donate to Pro-Palestinian charities you can rest assured the Department of Homeland Insecurity will put your name on a couple dozen watch lists.

RTFA. it is manifold and well-researched, several pages long in the print edition.

The history of unquestioning American political support for Israel stretches from a half-century of guilt + a half-century of turning that guilty feeling into complicity = the cabal headed by Israel on behalf of the United States through the Cold War. It stretched from central Russia to apartheid South Africa. Leaving it by the side of the road is overdue.

A first: Ebay shill bidder successfully prosecuted in the UK


“No cameras! No cameras! Can’t you see I look like Rickles??”

The first eBay seller to be prosecuted for bidding in his own auctions to boost prices has been ordered to pay nearly £5,000 in fines and costs.

Minibus firm owner Paul Barrett was told by a judge he had been spared jail because he had no previous convictions.

Barrett, 39, of Stanley, County Durham, was arrested after a complaint he sold a minibus with false low mileage.

He admitted 11 breaches of fair trading regulations and was also ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work.

Barrett was fined £3,500 and ordered to pay costs of £1,456 at Bradford Crown Court…

The court heard that Trading Standards investigators discovered Barrett used two logins – “paulthebusman” and “shanconpaul”.

He would advertise under one, but put bids in using the other to boost the price…

Sentencing the 39-year-old, Judge Peter Benson, said: “Had you had previous convictions for dishonesty, the result would have been a custodial sentence.

“This sort of conduct strikes at the heart of that trust which is vital if this very, very useful commercial medium is to continue to operate successfully.”

Trust is at the heart of Ebay? Who knew?

Could your car be an evil force? Or your toaster, for that matter?

Which kind of robot will be the first to arise and smite us? A study called Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile suggests we keep an eye on the family car…

Unlike the mindless jalopies of the past, it points out, “Today’s automobile is no mere mechanical device, but contains a myriad of computers.”

This myriad has powers to do good things for us humans, as well as bad things to us. Already, in some cases, the microchip hordes quietly, beneficently take control from the driver. The Lexus LS460 luxury sedan can automatically parallel-park itself. Many General Motors cars will soon have what the study calls “integration with Twitter”…

Limiting themselves to the here and now (“we concern ourselves solely with the vulnerabilities in today’s commercially available automobiles”), they tell, in professionally dull, let’s-remember-we’re-engineers fashion, how they conducted an experimental reign of terror…

The study focuses on automobiles. But indirectly, it forsees the day when our very toasters and teapots might turn against us. There is little publicly available research about the threat of hijackable household appliances.

In 1996, security experts based partly at the Rand Corporation wrote a report called Information Terrorism: Can You Trust Your Toaster?

No doubt Karl Rove still has a copy.

OTOH – I admit to have occasional concerns about my satellite TV DVR. I’ve been up in the middle of the night and witnessed strange patterns flashing in the assorted lights on the front control panel.

Robot companions

Nothing Eileen Oldaker tried could calm her mother when she called from the nursing home, disoriented and distressed in what was likely the early stages of dementia. So Ms. Oldaker hung up, dialed the nurses’ station and begged them to get Paro.

Paro is a robot modeled after a baby harp seal. It trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down. Two microprocessors under its artificial white fur adjust its behavior based on information from dozens of hidden sensors that monitor sound, light, temperature and touch. It perks up at the sound of its name, praise and, over time, the words it hears frequently…

After years of effort to coax empathy from circuitry, devices designed to soothe, support and keep us company are venturing out of the laboratory. Paro, its name derived from the first sounds of the words “personal robot,” is one of a handful that take forms that are often odd, still primitive and yet, for at least some early users, strangely compelling…

But building a machine that fills the basic human need for companionship has proved more difficult. Even at its edgiest, artificial intelligence cannot hold up its side of a wide-ranging conversation or, say, tell by an expression when someone is about to cry. Still, the new devices take advantage of the innate soft spot many people have for objects that seem to care — or need someone to care for them.

Their appearances in nursing homes, schools and the occasional living room are adding fuel to science fiction fantasies of machines that people can relate to as well as rely on. And they are adding a personal dimension to a debate over what human responsibilities machines should, and should not, be allowed to undertake.

Ms. Oldaker, a part-time administrative assistant, said she was glad Paro could keep her mother company when she could not. In the months before Mrs. Lesek died in March, the robot became a fixture in the room even during her daughter’s own frequent visits…

“I’m the only one who can put him to sleep,” Mrs. Lesek would tell her daughter when the battery ran out.

He was very therapeutic for her, and for me too,” Ms. Oldaker said. “It was nice just to see her enjoying something.”

RTFA. This is just a touch of the discussion, considerations ranging from ethical to practical, including the absurdities required by lawyers and Libertarians.

I think anyone who’s experienced long-term companionship with a dog or cat will understand exactly where some of these designs are heading – and why. The usefulness of helping someone to be happy – especially in trying times – seems to me to be the easiest thing in the world to understand. Leave the rest for seminarians to discuss in some ivory tower.