Friday, April 28, 2006

Remote Controlled People

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., Japans top telephone company is working on making video games a bit more realistic. How are they doing this? They invented a remote control device that fits onto your cranium which controls your body's movements. A woman described her experience at the research lab:

I found the experience unnerving and exhausting: I sought to step straight ahead but kept careening from side to side. Those alternating currents literally threw me off. The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) -- essentially, electricity messes with the delicate nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance... Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands. It's a mesmerizing sensation similar to being drunk or melting into sleep under the influence of anesthesia. But it's more definitive, as though an invisible hand were reaching inside your brain.

NTT researchers were able to make a person walk along a route in the shape of a giant pretzel using this technique. See the system in action, here (8 MB, Mpg format). This is a fascinating metaphor for human interaction. We so to speak give people the remote control of our emotions all the time. We allow other people to control how we feel. In Pirkei Avos 4:1 it says, "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot." Being happy with what you have means focusing on what is in your control. When we say "this person makes me so mad!" in effect we are giving our remote control to them. The same applies to concepts like money and power. When we say "I will be happy when I have this much money" we are placing our remote in another domain thereby allowing money to control our happiness. Judaism requires that we take hold of our remote and not let anyone or anything press our buttons.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mighty Mouse

Our fellow scientitists have made a recent discovery that could have an impact on our lives someday. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center figured out that by tweaking a gene called Klotho we could actually live longer. According to Dr. Makoto Kuro-o, stimulating the Klotho gene appears to delay many of the effects of old age, like weakening of bones, clogging of the arteries and loss of muscle fitness. In laboratories this discovery has been shown to increase the lifespan of a mouse by 31%. Dr. Makoto Kuro-o said, "It could be one of the significant steps for developing anti-aging therapy." Kuro-o and colleagues discovered the Klotho gene, naming it after the mythical Greek fate that controlled the length of human life.

This is a fascinating find and could change human life as we know it. If we could go in for a treatment that would extend our lives what would we do with the extra time? Would we do anything different? What exactly do we want to accomplish with our time here? Well, we do not have to wait for this treatment to become a reality to think about how we spend our time. Time is the most valuable commodity on Earth and yet so few use it wisely. Someone once asked my Rabbi, "What would you do if you had one week left to live?" He replied, "Exactly what I did last week." Living each day as if it were our last allows us to set our priorities straight and live the most meaningful life possible. Then, if this life-prolonging treatment becomes available at our local clinic we will know what to do with it.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Tomb Video

The world has come up with yet another great invention. This new product allows you to embed a flat LCD touch screen on your tomb and have it play any sort of message. You can tell over life stories, get the last word in on a disagreement or share a personal message. Each tomb video has a computer with a hard disc or microchip memory that allows the deceased to speak from the grave through a video message.

From a Jewish perspective we spend our whole life making this video. The video we create will be played in the minds and hearts of the people we come into contact during our short stay here. Will our movie be something that people will want to watch? Will our friends and family be positively influenced by it? Will it have any bearing on their life? How popular our video will be will depend on how much quality time we spent developing it. I would imagine that anyone that does order the Vidstone will be on his best behavior during the recording in order to leave a favorable impression. Sadly if a person did not behave himself while he was alive a tomb video will not help him.

Each day we create another clip that is added to the video of our life. To date we may not have the highest quality video but the Jewish year comes equipped with an opportunity to erase it and re-record. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the times in the year that we can repent for our mistakes and start anew. If we focus on the meaning of these days we will have the opportunity to design a new video to our liking.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Shabbat Bell

I just returned from a wonderful Shabbos in Jerusalem. The people were incredible, the discussion was interesting and the food was delicious. An interesting thing happened this Shabbos that demonstrated a common theme in life.

As I walked into the family's house I was eating by for lunch I noticed a little ding in the background. Every few seconds a ding would flow out of the kitchen. The stove bell must have broke in the middle of Shabbos and there was no way to shut it off without breaking Shabbos. The ding could be heard as we ate our meal but it did not intrude on our meal, at least overtly.

After the meal a few of us were conversing on the couches and one of the guys said, "Wow, that ding is really annoying!" This young man's comment is really an insight into human psychology. I recently read a great piece by Rabbi Pliskin on this topic in "Gateway To Happiness."
A popular observation states, "Nothing is as easy as it looks. Everything takes longer than you expect. And if anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible moment." When you are mentally prepared for events (without being nervous or anxious), you will find them much easier to cope with. If you always expect things to work out the way you wish, ask yourself what is the basis for your expectations. When you realize there is no basis for your expectations you will find it easier to give them up.

What this young man did not realize is that most things do not go according to plan. He was annoyed with the sound because he expected that everything would go according to his plan. The world does not work this way and the more we realize this the happier we will be.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Does Anyone Else See?

My feelings are mixed on the recent disengagement from Gaza. On the one hand I feel a deep sorrow for the countless families that were torn from their home and on the other hand I am bewildered that Israel would allow such a thing to happen.

Ilana Schneid, her husband and two young children are now sleeping in a
tent. In a recent interview Ilana said, "I don't know where my son will go to kindergarten at the beginning of the school year," Schneid said. "He asks us when we are going home, and we don't know what to tell him, because we don't know where our home is. We need to move somewhere, and start looking for jobs. Right now, we are refugees here in Israel." My heart goes out to Ilana and her family. It is hard to imagine that this is going on simultaneously to 8,000 other people.

Does Sharon not know that 80% of Palestinian Arabs continu
e to reject Israel's very existence? I am so curious to know what Sharon was thinking. He has to have some hidden strategy to this whole mess. Otherwise I don't understand how Sharon and his clan could blatantly ignore the writing on the walls. Any kid knows that if he whines enough and his parent gives in he knows for next time that whining works. The arabs seem to understand this concept.

"Israel has never been in such a state of retreat and weakness as it is today following more than four years of the intifada. Hamas's heroic attacks exposed the weakness and volatility of the impotent Zionist security establishment. The withdrawal marks the end of the Zionist dream and is a sign of the moral and psychological decline of the Jewish state. We believe that the resistance is the only way to pressure the Jews." - Ahmed al-Bahar (top hamas figure in Gaza)

"the withdrawal is due to the Palestinian resistance operations. ...and we will continue our resistance." - Sami Abu Zuhri (A hamas spokesman)

"Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem." - about 10,000 Palestinian Arabs dancing, singing and chanting at a mass rally in Gaza City August 4th.

"We will move our cells to the West Bank" ... "The withdrawal will not be complete without the West Bank and Jerusalem." - Jamal Abu Samhadaneh (commander of Gaza's Popular Resistance Committees)

"Our march will stop only in Jerusalem." - Ahmed Qurei (The Palestinian Authority)

"Wait for us in Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon. The knights of Gaza are coming. Our beloved sons of Palestine, we make no distinction between [Israeli-controlled] Palestine and [the West Bank and Gaza Strip] Palestine. There is no difference between Jaffa and Gaza, between the Galilee and Hebron. Hamas will leave Gaza and break out throughout Palestine to show the way of jihad, which will bring our nation to its summit. Oh sons of Zion, the defeat you suffered in Gaza is just the beginning..." - broadcast on Radio Al-Aqsa, Hamas' radio station after disengagement

Israel Will No Longer Exist (a recent poster after the disengagement)

I was shocked to hear Condoleezza Rice say, "Everyone empathizes with what the Israelis are facing. But it cannot be Gaza only." If you look below you will see Israel as represented by the black and the arab countries as represented by the green. Does Rice not see the big picture?

President Bush recently said, "We'll continue working for the day when the map of the Middle East shows two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security." How does Bush understand the murder last night of Shmuel Matt as he was walking home from Yeshiva?

If the arabs and the united nations are not happy with Israel today what makes us think they will ever be happy? Approximately two thirds of all united nations resolutions have been against Israel. The world used to be anti-Jew, today it has resurfaced as anti-Israel. Until people realize what is really going on here in Israel there will not be peace. This is not about land this is about the right of Israel (the Jewish people) to exist.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Taking The Time To Enjoy

It is difficult to take time out of my busy day and think about life. It seems as though our default nature is to not think but rather to coast on auto-pilot. Whenever I do take the time I am often moved by the subtle ways of our world.

There are two ways to eat an apple. One way is to snatch one out of the bowl, wash it off and take a bite. Another way is to take a second and think about this thing called an apple. This apple probably sat on a tree for a good few weeks. It probably went through it's share of stormy days and powerful winds but held on by it's stem. It is interesting to note that all fruit - apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, plums, grapes and cherries are completely green before they ripen. They seem to hide out until they become edible.

This apple comes with an air tight covering to keep out bugs and lock in it's juices. If you leave it out to long, it will turn brown and save you from taking that soggy bite. Each apple comes with a free bonus that entitles you to a lifetime supply of apples. All the little seed needs is water, sunlight and tasteless soil to kick out roots, wood, bark, leaves and brand new delicious apples. When the apple is ready to be eaten it tells the tree to let go of it's stem.

Jews say blessings before they eat any type of food. The words of the blessings are beautiful and help us to remember where our food comes from. Blessings are also built in mechanisms to prevent monotony. It allows us to elevate the mundane and appreciate all of the worlds gifts. There is a source for everything and by learning to be more aware of this we live a much more meaningful life.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Reality of Reality TV

One of saddest things I have seen growing up is perfectly healthy kids losing their sense of self-worth. With the multi-billion dollar media and advertising industry influencing our kids I am not surprised.

The FOX show "The Swan" takes women that are self-proclaimed "ugly ducklings" and has them undergo three months with a coach, a therapist, a personal trainer, a dentist, and a plastic surgeon. In the end, the transformed women compete in a beauty pageant against each other to see who will be crowned "The Swan." MTVs "I Want a Famous Face" films the lives of twelve young people who have chosen to use plastic surgery to look like their celebrity idols. Their goals are not just to look differently, but to look exactly like their favorite stars. I find it ironic that this is called reality TV. It is not surprising that China just hosted the worlds first Miss Plastic Surgery Contest.

In 2003 there were more than 8.7 million cosmetic plastic surgeries which was a 32 percent increase from 2002. Of the Americans considering Plastic Surgery, 60% would schedule a procedure immediately if financing were available.

The Torah says that man was created in the image of G-d. To try to be someone different than who we really are is a tragedy. We cheat ourselves by throwing away what is truly unique and special within us. We were given unique gifts and abilities and we are here to actualize them.

Rabbi Zusha used to say: "When I die and come before the heavenly court, if they ask me, 'Zusha, why were you not Abraham?' I'll say that I didn't have Abraham's intellectual abilities. If they say, 'Why were you not Moses?' I'll say I didn't have Moses' leadership abilities. For every such question, I'll have an answer. But if they say, 'Zusha, why were you not Zusha?' for that, I'll have no answer."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Jerusalem Weddings

I have had the pleasure of attending quite a few weddings during my stay here in Yeshiva. There is a song that is sung at every wedding that strikes a deep chord in my heart. It is taken from our Prophet Jeremiah. During the First Temple period he warns the Jewish people to correct their ways. They don't listen, the First Temple is destroyed and off the Jews go into exile. Instead of saying "I told you so," Jeremiah gives hope. He tells the Jews to set up markers so that they will remember how to get back to Israel. No other nation in the history of the world has ever returned to their homeland. Imagine the Native Americans taking back America. Jeremiah promises the Jews that they will be back.

Today, 2,600 years later his words are sung at every religious wedding! He declares, "Od yeshama - Again there shall be heard in this place ... in the [desolate] towns of Judah and the [deserted] streets of Jerusalem ... the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride" (33:10-11).

I am so enamored by the depth of this beautiful song. It represents the great power of the Jewish people to always make a comeback. Despite the wishes of world powers throughout history, we are still here, celebrating weddings in our own land. With a quick glance into the past we remind ourselves of the richness and uniqueness that lie within the Jewish people.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Today's Greeting Cards

I recently came across this article:
Adulterers need cards too
Having an affair? Maybe you'd like to send something from Cathy Gallagher's Secret Lover Collection of greeting cards.

"Gallagher says her Secret Lover Collection of 24 cards is the first line exclusively for people having affairs, and she expects hot sales. She says half of married people have had affairs (though some studies show the figure to be far less -- more like 15% of married women and 22% of married men, according to the University of Chicago)." "Look at how many people on soap operas are having affairs. That's real. And I think that's why this is so scary -- these cards are real, and for a lot of people it hits very close to home." Gallagher has received feedback that maybe this new line of cards isn't the most moral of things to do. To that she said consumers, not the morality police, will decide if her business succeeds or fails.

So what does Hallmark think of these new cards? They said that their existing lines already cover this topic. Spokeswoman Rachel Bolton said that cards like, "I love the private world that you and I share," are sufficient. Hallmark doesn't seem to be worried about the competition.

I think Gallagher's statement about consumerism and morality sums up today's generation. If people will buy the product than it must be OK to sell. What does morality have to do with business? From a Jewish point of view morality has everything to do with business. Not to commit adultery is one of the ten commandments. The Torah acknowledges that there is a drive within us to cheat and that is why it instructs us not to do it. The same reason it is inherently wrong to steal is the same reason it is inherently wrong to commit adultery. Therefore we should not be condoning behavior that is unethical.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Floating Freedom

Imagine a mile-long stretch of 25-story-tall buildings floating on water. Do you know what you have just pictured?

It is called,
"Freedom Ship." Yes, 2.7 million tons of freedom, cruising across the ocean blue. It can hold 50,000 residents, 20,000 visitors and 15,000 crew members. On board you will find a world class casino, ferryboat transportation system, $200 million hospital, school system offering kindergarten through college education, international trade center, 200 open acres for recreation, marina for residents' yachts, golf driving range, bicycle paths, large shopping mall, and a landing strip for aircraft. This floating city will circle the world every three years. Real estate prices aboard the ship range from $180,000 to $44 million.

"Freedom ship" is an ironic name for what this ship represents. The makers of this ship are telling us that if we had all these luxuries we would be free. The question is... "what exactly do we become free to do?" Freedom described in the Torah is always connected to meaning. What is freedom without a purpose to it? The real freedom ship is a ship with a map and destination. We need a map to know how to navigate through this complex world and we need to have a reason why we are traveling. With these tools we will arrive at our final stop having lead a meaningful and productive journey.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Bee Buzz

The buzz of a bee will send chills down the spine of almost anybody. Most of us, if we could, would trap or squash one on sight. It was interesting to read that there is a tiny parasite known as a 'vampire mite' that has been knocking out bee hives left and right. In just six months the vampire mites have managed to destroy 40 - 60 percent of the bees in the U.S.

"If honeybees ceased to exist, two-thirds of the citrus, all of the watermelons, the blueberries, strawberries, pecans and beans would disappear," said Jerry Hayes, apiary inspection chief with the state's Division of Plant Industry.

varroa mites (vampire mites) are now immune to the chemicals once used to kill them. Hundreds of researchers across the globe are looking for a solution. "Beekeepers need something this year or next to keep their colonies going," said Jay Evans, a geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Md.

So the pesky little bee is really a tremendous asset to our world. It is amazing how taking a little time to understand something can enlighten us to the fact that things are not always what they seem. If I can learn this about a bee then surely I can learn this about a person.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Circumcison and AIDS

"...AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the beginning of the epidemic over 15 million Africans have died from AIDS. During 2004 an estimated 2.3 million adults and children died as a result of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa."

So what have researchers come up with to combat this epidemic? Circumcision... of course. "The study's preliminary results, disclosed Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, showed that circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 70 percent -- a level of protection far better than the 30 percent risk reduction set as a target for an AIDS vaccine." How does this make sense? Well... "Laboratory studies have found that the foreskin is rich in white blood cells, which are favored targets of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS." (There are many other medical advantages of circumcision.)

I find it ironic that the civilization that brought circumcision to the world so long ago least needs this new found safeguard. Circumcision began as a covenant between man and G-d. The Jewish people were to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. Judaism feels that sex is a positive thing but in the context of marriage.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Happy Moment

In 1998, Martin Seligman, President of the A.P.A. (American Psychological Association) saw that until then psychology had been focused on why people are messed up and not why they are happy. He said, "I realized that my profession was half-baked..." So he guided the A.P.A. in a new direction as they began to research "the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish."

Some of the results were published in the January, 2005 edition of Time magazine. They concluded that it was not money, power & sex that made people happier but rather two key elements. One was keeping a gratitude journal and the other was performing acts of altruism. In other words being thankful for what we have and doing kind deeds makes a person happier. I didn't flinch when I read this. Jews have been saying this for thousands of years! Being thankful and doing kind deeds is built into the core of Judaism.

The first thing a Jew says in the morning is "modeh ani" which means "I am thankful" and one of the most admired figures of the Torah, Abraham, is famous for the kind deeds he did. These are small examples of just how ingrained these two happiness factors are in our religion.