Archive for the ‘ Other ’ Category

Spiritual malaria?

Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:

A recent fatwa from a ‘Saudi Council of Muftis’ has this advice for fellow Muslims: Do not say [or write] ‘mosque.’ Always say ‘masjid’ because mosque may mean mosquito. Another myopic case of Saudi malaria perhaps?

Certainly.  But that’s not all. The grand fatwa goes on to suggest that Muslims should not write ‘Mecca’ but Makkah, because Mecca may mean ‘house of wines.’  I am serious. But then so are the Muftis. They certainly need to get a life.

But I’m not all that surprised by such fatwas that usually emanate from Saudi Arabia. While vicious reactionary literature originating in totalitarian puritanical Muslim states impact and mutate the political bearings of various religious parties and groups in Pakistan, ‘social fatwas’  like the one mentioned above also began appearing in the early 1980s to influence the more apolitical sections of Muslim societies.

Reactionary literature generated by the Saudi propaganda machine started being distributed in Pakistan from 1979 onwards, mostly in the shape of pamphlets and books.

Duly translated into Urdu, they glorify and propagate violent action (jihad) not only against non-Muslims (or infidels) but also against those Muslims who fail to follow the thorny dictates of a certain puritanical strain of the faith.

What’s more, there was nothing so clandestine about the whole process. Because along with mainstream religious parties and jihadi groups during the so-called ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad,’ the state of Pakistan also encouraged the unchecked proliferation of this arrogant, myopic and hate-spouting literature.

To the Pakistani state (during the ‘Afghan jihad’) such literature and propaganda were essential to introduce and expand a kind of ‘Islam’ that was historically alien to the religious ethos of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population.

It was alien because for centuries, the political and cultural dynamics of the subcontinent had been such that for survival and posterity’s sake, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other religious groups of the region, had to adapt and tolerate each other’s religious convictions and rituals. Such a process eschewed religious Puritanism and repulsed any attempt (Hindu or Muslim) to impose a hegemonic social strain of their respective faiths.

The extreme strains in this respect remained on the fringe, both Hindu and Muslim.

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Michelangelo’s secret message in the Sistine Chapel: A juxtaposition of God and the human brain

R. Douglas Fields in Scientific American:

At the age of 17 he began dissecting corpses from the church graveyard. Between the years 1508 and 1512 he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti—known by his first name the world over as the singular artistic genius, sculptor and architect—was also an anatomist, a secret he concealed by destroying almost all of his anatomical sketches and notes. Now, 500 years after he drew them, his hidden anatomical illustrations have been found—painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, cleverly concealed from the eyes of Pope Julius II and countless religious worshipers, historians, and art lovers for centuries—inside the body of God.

This is the conclusion of Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, in their paper in the May 2010 issue of the scientific journalNeurosurgery. Suk and Tamargo are experts in neuroanatomy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1990, physician Frank Meshberger published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association deciphering Michelangelo’s imagery with the stunning recognition that the depiction in God Creating Adam in the central panel on the ceiling was a perfect anatomical illustration of the human brain in cross section. Meshberger speculates that Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence. Now in another panel The Separation of Light from Darkness (shown at left), Suk and Tamargo have found more. Leading up the center of God’s chest and forming his throat, the researchers have found a precise depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem.

Is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a 500 year-old puzzle that is only now beginning to be solved? What was Michelangelo saying by construction the voice box of God out of the brain stem of man? Is it a sacrilege or homage?

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The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 2)

Errol Morris in The New York Times:

2. The Illness of Doubt:

Everyone Poisons Himself in His Own Way:

June 11, 1914. In a brief communication presented to the Neurological Society of Paris, Joseph Babinski (1857-1932), a prominent French-Polish neurologist, former student of Charcot and contemporary of Freud, described two patients with “left severe hemiplegia” – a complete paralysis of the left side of the body – left side of the face, left side of the trunk, left leg, left foot. Plus, an extraordinary detail. These patients didn’t know they were paralyzed. To describe their condition, Babinski coined the term anosognosia – taken from the Greek agnosia, lack of knowledge, andnosos, disease. [13]

I want to draw attention to a mental disorder that I had the opportunity to observe in cerebral hemiplegia, which consists in the fact that patients seem unaware of or ignore the existence of their paralysis . . . .

One such patient . . . hit by left hemiplegia has largely maintained her intellectual and affective faculties, for many months. She remembered past events well, was willing to talk, expressed herself correctly, her ideas were sensible; she was interested in persons known to her and asked about new people . . . No hallucinations, delirium, confusional state, confabulation. What did contrast with the apparent preservation of intelligence of this patient was that she seemed to ignore the existence of a nearly complete hemiplegia, which she had been afraid of for many years. Never did she complain about it; never did she even allude to it. If she was asked to move her right arm, she immediately executed the command. If she was asked to move the left one, she stayed still, silent, and behaved as if the question had been put to somebody else.

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The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1)

Errol Morris blogging for the New York Times:

David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, was perusing the 1996 World Almanac.  In a section called Offbeat News Stories he found a tantalizingly brief account of a series of bank robberies committed in Pittsburgh the previous year.  From there, it was an easy matter to track the case to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, specifically to an article by Michael A. Fuoco:

ARREST IN BANK ROBBERY,
SUSPECT’S TV PICTURE SPURS TIPS

At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, bank robbery suspect McArthur Wheeler isn’t the type of person who fades into the woodwork.  So it was no surprise that he was recognized by informants, who tipped detectives to his whereabouts after his picture was telecast Wednesday night during the Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers Inc. segment of the 11 o’clock news.

At 12:10 a.m. yesterday, less than an hour after the broadcast, he was arrested at 202 S. Fairmont St., Lincoln-Lemington.  Wheeler, 45, of Versailles Street, McKeesport, was wanted in [connection with] bank robberies on Jan. 6 at the Fidelity Savings Bank in Brighton Heights and at the Mellon Bank in Swissvale. In both robberies, police said, Wheeler was accompanied by Clifton Earl Johnson, 43, who was arrested Jan. 12.[1]

Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight.  What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise.  The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest.  There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money.  Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving.  “But I wore the juice,” he said.  Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.

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Death Penalty

Christopher Valen in Salon:

Ronnie Lee Gardner’s death by firing squad last Friday was the first time in 14 years that an American inmate was executed by firing squad — a method Gardner choose over lethal injection. Utah essentially banned firing squads in 2004 but allowed Gardner to choose his method of execution since he was sentenced before the state ban. Gardner was the third man to die by firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. He was sentenced to death in 1985 for fatally shooting an attorney during a failed escape attempt from a Salt Lake City courthouse. At the time, he was facing a 1984 murder charge for the shooting death of a bartender.

Interestingly, the attorney’s family opposed the death penalty and asked for Gardner’s life to be spared. Relatives of the bartender lobbied the parole board to reject Gardner’s request for clemency and a reduced sentence. Those opposing points of view regarding the death penalty are reflected in polling data.

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans in favor of the death penalty has fluctuated significantly since 1936, ranging from a low of 42% in 1966, to a high of 80% in 1994, though public opinion has stabilized in recent years with 65% supporting the death penalty in October 2009.

Given that roughly 2/3 of the country currently supports it, one would assume that the prospect of receiving a death sentence would deter would-be murderers from committing such offenses.  In fact, the murder rate in states that do not have the death penalty is consistently lower than in states with the death penalty.  The South, which carries out over 80% of the executions in the U. S., has the highest murder rate of the four regions. Research conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center from data supplied by the FBI, found that murder rates in death penalty states in 2007 was 42% higher than in non-death penalty states. Statistics from the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report also found that regions of the country that use the death penalty the least are the safest for police officers.

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The Memory Doctor

William Saletan in Slate:

Part I: The Ministry of Truth

In 1984, George Orwell told the story of Winston Smith, an employee in the propaganda office of a totalitarian regime. Smith’s job at the fictional Ministry of Truth was to destroy photographs and alter documents, remaking the past to fit the needs of the present. But 1984 came and went, along with Soviet communism. In the age of the Internet, nobody could tamper with the past that way. Could they?

Yes, we can. In fact, last week, Slate did.

We took the Ministry of Truth as our model. Here’s how Orwell described its work:

As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of The Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.

Slate can’t erase all records the way Orwell’s ministry did. But with digital technology, we can doctor photographs more effectively than ever. And that’s what we did in last week’sexperiment. We altered four images from recent political history, took a fifth out of context, and mixed them with three unadulterated scenes. We wanted to test the power of photographic editing to warp people’s memories.

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The Trouble with Dr. Zakir Naik

Sadanand Dhume for The Wall Street Journal

If you’re looking for a snapshot of India’s hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Bombay-based cleric Dr. Zakir Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors. The British, however, want no part of him. On Friday, the newly elected Conservative-led government announced that it would not allow Dr. Naik to enter Britain to deliver a series of lectures. According to Home Secretary Theresa May, the televangelist has made “numerous comments” that are evidence of his “unacceptable behavior.”

The good doctor’s views run the gamut from nutty to vile, so it’s hard to pinpoint which of them has landed him in trouble. For instance, though Dr. Naik has condemned terrorism, at times he also appears to condone it. “If he [Osama bin Laden] is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him,” he said in a widely watched 2007 YouTube diatribe. “If he is terrorizing the terrorists, if he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”

Dr. Naik recommends the death penalty for homosexuals and for apostasy from the faith, which he likens to wartime treason. He calls for India to be ruled by the medieval tenets of Shariah law. He supports a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands and the Taliban’s bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas. He says revealing clothes make Western women “more susceptible to rape.” Not surprisingly, Dr. Naik believes that Jews “control America” and are the “strongest in enmity to Muslims.”

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