The Church Lady, 2012

February 23, 2012



February 23, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Foreign Policy:

 It is winter, the middle of December, and I find myself making an odd phone call. Pacing around my living room, I kick at the carpet as I dial the number.

“Hello?” I say.

“There’s no time,” the man on the other end of the line answers immediately. His name is Gavin Boby. We have e-mailed before, but I introduce myself again, explaining my background: education, photography and video experience, that sort of thing.

Boby’s tone is measured and businesslike. “It sounds like you have skills that could be of use. Muslims are very bad losers,” he says matter-of-factly. He’d like me to act as a witness, he tells me, videotaping his court appearances and searching the Internet for “targets.” The conversation is taking me into uncomfortable territory; my voice wavers, and I begin to flounder. Boby doesn’t notice. “I’ll send you instructions on how we work,” he says and hangs up. I have just become a Mosquebuster.

The Mosquebusters, or the Law and Freedom Foundation as they’re officially known, are part of a new wave of anti-Islamic campaigners in England with links to more established anti-immigrant groups such as England Is Ours and Stop Islamisation of Europe. Like many of these groups, the Mosquebusters fear that traditional British culture, laws, and values will disappear with the changing face of Britain and worry that extremist interpretations of sections of the Koran urge Muslims to kill non-believers and take slaves.

Until mid-February, the Mosquebusters advertised for volunteers, under a campaign called “No More Mosques,” on the website of the ultra-nationalist English Defence League (EDL), a group that organizes anti-Islamic street marches that often decend into brawls, riots, and arrests. The EDL and other anti-Islamic groups have no problem convincing their members to parade in public yelling insults like “Muslim bombers off our streets!” and “Allah is a pedophile!,” but the Mosquebusters have a quieter, perhaps more insidious approach: In offices and city halls, they are crafting legal cases against mosque construction applications across the country. It’s a war against Islam, but one that often resembles a bureaucratic turf battle more than a clash of civilizations.

Mosquebusters leader Boby, known as The Lawman, is careful to draw the distinction between religion and race. “It is primarily about the division between Islamic and non-Islamic society, and the lawless violence at the heart of Islamic doctrine and practice,” he says in his manifesto. Boby dresses conservatively, with a black suit, white button-down shirt, and pastel neck tie, done up tight. He is clean shaven, his brown hair cropped close, and his small eyes squint behind wire-framed glasses. He has the look of a typical middle-aged businessman. And most of the time, he is.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., he runs a planning application company in Bristol, in western of England. He is a qualified barrister with undergraduate and graduate law degrees. But what Boby really wants is “an army of people, about 500 across the country,” as he says in one of his online motivational videos. As I watched the recording from my flat in East London, while digesting one of his instructional e-mails on bureaucratic mosque-busting, Boby leaned closer to the camera, maintaining eye contact: “It is very important that mosques are stopped.”

Boby launched the Mosquebusters website in 2011, but the group has been working behind the scenes for longer. It offers legal expertise, pro bono, to anyone disputing the construction of a mosque in England, and it has a growing web presenceBoby relies on a handful of volunteers to help with his work; they don’t have a physical office but work from home communicating via e-mail, with Boby alone. “I’ve tried using members of the EDL as volunteers before. They’re too reactionary,” he says. When Boby needs to meet his Mosquebusters or clients, he takes them for lunch, one-on-one, in London or Bristol — an offer he made to me as well when we talked by phone. Boby doesn’t speak with the press, so a chance to meet him would have been rare. But later in the week, he had a change of heart; he e-mailed me questioning my motives and asked me to disregard all prior correspondence…

Read it all.

Foreign Affairs:

2011 was a turning point in the fight against corruption. Around the world, protest after protest had one common denominator: outrage at some form of corruption. In the Middle East, people took to the streets to oust political elites who had been building vast personal wealth while depriving citizens of the most basic necessities. Israel, too, saw its first mass middle-class economic protests ever. In India, meanwhile, the social activist Anna Hazare led several hunger strikes in a campaign against graft. And Chinese citizens staged protests against corruption. Following seemingly fraudulent parliamentary elections in December, Russia also saw an unprecedented middle-class movement mobilized against the existing establishment. Even in the United States and Western Europe, citizens rallied against unemployment, corporate greed, and inequality.

As any student of history knows, corruption is an age-old problem. Attempts to solve it date back centuries, but the modern, more global battle started in 1977, when the United States first enacted the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). It was passed in response to a series of defense industry scandals involving the business practices of such firms as General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and McDonnell Douglas in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. And for the first time in history, a law purported to be applicable beyond U.S. borders.

Before the FCPA, efforts against public corruption had been narrowly focused — they were national or local — and enacted piecemeal, routinely targeting only smaller acts of corruption. Rarely, if ever, did the United States cooperate with other countries to root out systemic inequity.

For decades after it passed, even the FCPA was not particularly widely enforced. U.S. companies despised it, because, they argued, it placed them at a competitive disadvantage with foreign companies. Non-U.S. businesses and governments reviled it, too, because the United States’ claim of having jurisdiction on foreign territories seemed a violation of basic sovereignty.

But two long-standing pressures converged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One pressure came from the U.S. government, which represented the frustrations of American companies that were long unhappy with their relative disadvantage compared to companies in other countries that were free from the “shackles” of the FCPA. The other pressure came from the increasingly empowered nongovernmental organization (NGO) community. It was best embodied by Transparency International, which was established in 1989 to combat corruption worldwide. So, in 1997, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched the Anti-Bribery Convention, an agreement aimed at leveling the anticorruption playing field by encouraging many nations to adopt laws similar to the FCPA forbidding the bribery of foreign officials, and 29 member nations signed on.

As of today, 38 countries (the original 29 members plus nine more, including Argentina, Brazil, and Israel) have enacted FCPA-like laws. In the last ten years, Germany and France, which had previously not only allowed their companies to offer bribes to foreign officials to gain or retain new business in foreign markets but also to claim tax deductions for them, finally outlawed both practices.

Recently, the U.S. government also got more serious about corruption. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department has been implementing an unprecedented international anti-bribery campaign and has focused much more on enforcing the FCPA at home. In the 35 years since the agreement was signed, the DOJ’s criminal division has never been busier. The past year saw the most ever criminal penalties handed down in international bribery-related cases, with well over $1 billion in fines. Today, the department has more 150 open anti-bribery investigations. This is compared to an average of five to ten annually in the past decade.

Last year, the United Kingdom adopted the most daring and broadest FCPA-like law to date: the U.K. Bribery Act. It criminalized not only official but also unofficial, international commercial bribery and imposed strict liability on senior executives who overlook bribery performed by their organizations.

Even quasi-democratic and authoritarian regimes have begun to join or entertain joining the OECD convention. The Russian Federation just signed the agreement in February this year. In May 2011, it became illegal in China to bribe foreign officials. To be sure, China has had an erratic track record on corruption — sometimes it ignores graft, and sometimes it executes individuals found guilty of it. But the regime’s latest effort is at least partly a genuine effort, partly lip service to domestic pressure, and partly a way to gain full acceptance into the international economic community, especially the World Trade Organization.

Civil society has been instrumental in the development of all of these international anticorruption efforts as well. Over the past two decades, Transparency International has gathered indispensable anticorruption data and developed many tools, such as the Corruption Perceptions Index, Bribe Payers Index, and Global Corruption Barometer, to track cases and provide practical insights. Companies, governments, and the research and NGO communities have widely adopted these tools to help develop their respective anti corruption programs and laws…

Read it all.


So here is something staring you in the face, an extraordinary syndrome, utterly mysterious, where a person wants his normal limb removed. Why does this happen? There are all kinds of crazy theories about it including Freudian theories. One theory asserts, for example, that it’s an attention seeking behavior. This chap wants attention so he asks you to remove his arm. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does he not want his nose removed or ear removed or something less drastic? Why an arm? It seems a little bit too drastic for seeking attention.

[V.S. RAMACHANDRAN:] I’m interested in all aspects of the human mind, including aspects of the mind that have been regarded as ineffable or mysterious. The way I approach these problems is to look at patients who have sustained injury to a small region in the brain, a discipline called Behavioral Neurology or Cognitive Neuroscience these days.

Let me tell you about the problem confronting us. The brain is a 1.5 kilogram mass of jelly, the consistency of tofu, you can hold it in the palm of your hand, yet it can contemplate the vastness of space and time, the meaning of infinity and the meaning of existence. It can ask questions about who am I, where do I come from, questions about love and beauty, aesthetics, and art, and all these questions arising from this lump of jelly. It is truly the greatest of mysteries. The question is how does it come about?

 When you look at the structure of the brain it’s made up of neurons. Of course, everybody knows that these days. There are 100 billion of these nerve cells. Each of these cells makes about 1,000 to 10,000 contacts with other neurons. From this information people have calculated that the number of possible brain states, of permutations and combinations of brain activity, exceeds the number of elementary particles in the universe.
The question is how do you go about studying this organ? There are various ways of doing it. These days brain imaging is very popular. You make the person perform some task, engage in conversation or think about love, for that matter, or something like that, or imagine the color red. What part of the brain lights up? That gives you some confidence in saying that that region of the brain is involved in mediating that function. I’m sort of simplifying it, but something along those lines. Then there is recording from single cells where you put an electrode through the brain, eavesdrop on the activity of individual neurons, find out what the neuron is responsive to in the external world. There are dozens of such approaches, and our approach is behavioral neurology combined with brain imaging.

Behavioral neurology has a long history going back about 150 years, a venerable tradition going back to Charcot. Even Freud was a behavioral neurologist. We usually think of him as a psychologist, but he was also a neurologist. In fact, he began his career as a neurologist, comparable in stature with Charcot, Hughling Jackson, Kurt Goldstein. What they did was to look at patients with sustained injury to a very small region of the brain—and this is what we do as well in our lab. What you get is not a blunting of all your mental capacities or across the board reduction of your mental ability. What you get often is a highly selective loss of one specific function, other functions being preserved relatively intact. This gives you some confidence in saying that that region of the brain is specialized in dealing with that function.

It doesn’t have to be a lesion; it can be a genetic change. One of the phenomena that we’ve studied, for example, is synesthesia, the merging of the senses (which I’ll talk about in a minute) where’s there has been a genetic glitch. It runs in families in whom some gene or genes cause people to hear colors and taste sounds. They’ve got their senses muddled up. We’ve been studying this phenomenon.

In general, we look at is curious phenomenon, syndromes that have been known for ages, maybe 100 years, 50 years, that people have brushed under the carpet because they’re regarded as anomalies, to use Thomas Kuhn’s phrase. What do you make of somebody who says, “I see five as red, six as blue, seven as green, F sharp as indigo.” It doesn’t make any sense and when you see this in science, the tendency among most scientists, most of my colleagues at any rate, is to brush it under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist, deny it. What we do is to go and rescue these phenomena from oblivion, studying them intensively in the laboratory. Nine out of ten times it’s a wild goose chase, but every now and then you hit the jackpot and you discover something really interesting and important. This is what happened with synesthesia. Another example, which maybe I’ll begin with, is one most people have heard of, our work on phantom limbs and mirrors, which I’ll touch on in a minute.

One of the peculiar syndromes, which we have studied recently, is called apotemnophilia. It’s in fact so uncommon that many neurologists and many psychiatrists have not heard of it. It’s in a sense a converse of phantom limbs. In a phantom limb patient an arm is amputated but the patient continues to vividly feel the presence of that arm. We call it a phantom limb. In apotemnophilia you are dealing with a perfectly healthy, normal individual, not mentally disturbed in any way, not psychotic, not emotionally disturbed, often holding a job, and has a family.

We saw a patient recently who was a prominent dean of an engineering school and soon after he retired he came out and said he wants his left arm amputated above the elbow. Here’s a perfectly normal guy who has been living a normal life in society interacting with people. He’s never told anybody that he harbored this secret desire—intense desire—to have his arm amputated ever since early childhood, and he never came out and told people about it for fear that they might think he was crazy. He came to see us recently and we tried to figure out what was going on in his brain. And by the way, this disorder is not rare. There are websites devoted to it. About one-third of them go on to actually get it amputated. Not in this country because it’s not legal, but they go to Mexico or somewhere else and get it amputated.

So here is something staring you in the face, an extraordinary syndrome, utterly mysterious, where a person wants his normal limb removed. Why does this happen? There are all kinds of crazy theories about it including Freudian theories. One theory asserts, for example, that it’s an attention seeking behavior. This chap wants attention so he asks you to remove his arm. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does he not want his nose removed or ear removed or something less drastic? Why an arm? It seems a little bit too drastic for seeking attention.

The second thing that struck us is the guy would often take a felt pen and draw a very precise irregular line around his arm or leg and say, “I want it removed exactly that way. I don’t want you removing too little of it or too much of it. It would feel wrong. I want you to amputate it exactly on that line.” And you could test him after a year it is the same wiggly line which he couldn’t have memorized, and this suggests already that this is something physiological, and not something psychological that he is making up.

Another theory that is even more absurd (found in some papers, and again, it’s also a Freudian theory) is that the guy wants a big stump because it resembles a giant penis. Sort of wish fulfillment. This again is ridiculous, complete nonsense, of course. The question is why does it actually happen? What we were struck by was that there are certain syndromes where the patient has a right hemisphere stroke, in the right parietal cortex. The patient then starts denying that the left arm belongs to him. He says, “Doctor, this arm,” he’ll often point to it with his right arm and say, “this arm belongs to my mother.” Here’s a person who is perfectly coherent, intelligent, can discuss politics with you, can discuss mathematics with you, play chess with you, asserting that his left arm doesn’t belong to him.

This is different from apotemnophilia. In apotemnophilia the patient says, “This arm is mine, but I don’t want it. I want it removed.” But there are similarities, there’s an overlap, so we suggested that maybe there’s something wrong with his body image in the right hemisphere, which alienates the left arm, or the right arm, for that matter, from the rest of the person’s body and the sense of alienation leads to the person saying, “I don’t want it. Have it removed.”…

Read it all.

Warrior Wardrobe

February 23, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


February 23, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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