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Easter Open Thread

The Resurrection of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Resurrection of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn

Sunday Gospel

Saturday Song

Same As It Ever Was (Tax Edition)

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Somewhere in Hell is an especially hot place for these bureaucrats of a bygone age (and perhaps their institutional descendants). The AP has the story on when Holland collected back taxes from Jewish Holocaust survivors returning home and a young woman’s fight to return the money:

Charlotte van den Berg was a 20-year-old college student working part-time in Amsterdam’s city archives when she and other interns came across a shocking find: letters from Jewish Holocaust survivors complaining that the city was forcing them to pay back taxes and late payment fines on property seized after they were deported to Nazi death camps.

How, the survivors asked, could they be on the hook for taxes due while Hitler’s regime was trying to exterminate them? A typical response was: “The base fees and the fines for late payment must be satisfied, regardless of whether a third party, legally empowered or not, has for some time held the title to the building.”

Following her discovery in 2011, Van den Berg waged a lonely fight against Amsterdam’s modern bureaucracy to have the travesty publicly recognized. Now, largely due to her efforts, Amsterdam officials are considering compensating Holocaust survivors for the taxes and possibly other obligations, including gas bills, they were forced to pay for homes that were occupied by Nazis or collaborators while the rightful owners were in hiding or awaiting death in the camps.

“I didn’t expect any of this to happen, though I’m happy it finally did,” Van den Berg told The Associated Press in an interview. “I never dreamed that compensation could be the result.”

An unpublished review of those files by the Netherlands’ Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies — or NIOD — found 217 cases in which the city demanded that returning Jews pay the taxes and penalty fees for getting behind in their payments.

Two Dutch newspapers, Het Parool and De Telegraaf, have received leaked copies of the report and published its conclusions. The report found that the city’s top lawyer advised politicians of the time not to enforce the fines, but the recommendation was rejected. Politicians worried granting one claim might lead to more.

“The city made a conscious decision to reject this advice, which cannot be described otherwise than as a totally needless callousness toward (Jews) who had their property taken during the war,” De Telegraaf quoted the report as saying.

Amsterdam’s official ruling of Sept. 12, 1947, a public document viewed by the AP, was that “the city has the right to full payment of fees and fines” and that most excuses — including that property had been seized by the Nazis — were invalid.

Brain Man

John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy


Part of my faculty duties include teaching law and court-related courses in our graduate Forensic Psychology program. I’ve studied and discussed my fair share of predators, sociopaths, and psychopaths over the years and I find them endlessly fascinating — and often misunderstood by the media establishment which focuses on an exceedingly violent (though significant) minority. Wired Magazine has a great interview with Kent Kiehl, a man who researches psychopathy and the brains of psychopaths. Here’s a bit, go read the whole thing:

Kent Kiehl was walking briskly towards the airport exit, eager to get home, when a security guard grabbed his arm. “Would you please come with me, sir?” he said. Kiehl complied, and he did his best to stay calm while security officers searched his belongings. Then, they asked him if there was anything he wanted to confess.

Kiehl is a neuroscientist at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and he’s devoted his career to studying what’s different about the brains of psychopaths — people whose lack of compassion, empathy, and remorse has a tendency to get them into trouble with the law. On the plane, Kiehl had been typing up notes from an interview he’d done with a psychopath in Illinois who’d been convicted of murdering two women and raping and killing a 10-year old girl. The woman sitting next to him thought he was typing out a confession.

Kiehl recounts the story in a new book about his research, The Psychopath Whisperer. He has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years, and the book is filled with stories of these colorful (and occasionally off-color) encounters. (Actually, The Psychopath Listener would have been a more accurate, if less grabby title.) More recently he’s acquired a mobile MRI scanner and permission to scan the brains of New Mexico state prison inmates. So far he’s scanned about 3,000 violent offenders, including 500 psychopaths.

He talked with WIRED about what’s different in the brains of psychopaths and why he views psychopathy as a preventable mental disorder.

WIRED: How do real life psychopaths differ from ones we see on TV or in movies?

Kent Kiehl: One of the biggest differences is that psychopaths are way more common than people believe. About one in 150 people will meet the stringent clinical criteria for the disorder. That means hundreds of thousands of them are out and about in the population. The majority of them don’t commit violent crimes, but they lead this sort of disorganized, nomadic life, and they tend to eventually end up in some sort of trouble. Hollywood hasn’t done a good job of portraying the average psychopath. For the most part, they’ve taken the extreme view, with the Hannibal Lecters and more sensationalized people like that. It’s actually far more common and banal.

WIRED: People also tend to confuse psychopathy and psychosis — what’s the difference?

Kiehl: Right. With psychopathy the main features are lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse — and impulsivity. Psychosis is a fragmentation of the mind where you have hallucinations and delusions. It’s a very different disorder. You almost never find someone who has psychotic delusions and even moderate levels of psychopathic traits.

WIRED: In the book you write that in two decades you’ve only come across a handful of people who scored 40 out of 40 on the psychopathy checklist (30 is commonly used as the psychopath cutoff. Regular folks tend to score around 4 or 5). What is it like to talk to a perfect psychopath?

Kiehl: They are so fundamentally different. You leave the room knowing that you’ve just met someone who is extremely different, even different from other psychopaths. They are absolutely and completely free from conscience. They have this unbelievably flat affect that’s really palpable when you look in their eyes.

And here’s Kiehl’s book:

Sorry, Kids. Science!

A Funny for your Saturday...

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I don’t care what anyone says, the last picture of the dog makes me laugh everytime I see it.

Holy Saturday Open Thread

The Harrowing of Hell -- Bruegel

The Harrowing of Hell — Bruegel

What? We Were Members of the Insertion Team!

Let it be known… that it will soon be against the law for cops in Hawai’i to use the services of a prostitute. Hawai’i House Bill 1926 — the description of which says:

    Prostitution; Sex Crimes

Description: Amends the offense of prostitution to clarify that a law enforcement officer shall not be exempt from the offense if the law enforcement officer engages in sexual penetration while acting in the course and scope of duties; and establish that a person less than eighteen years of age shall not be prosecuted for prostitution or promoting prostitution offenses if the person is charged with a first and only prostitution charge; provided that a person’s exemption shall not affect the prosecution of any other person for a prostitution or promoting prostitution offense. Amends the offense of solicitation of a minor for prostitution. Clarifies sentencing of repeat offenders and enhanced sentences for repeat violent and sexual offenders.

It’s in conference committee reportedly soon to be sent to the Governor for signature as soon as the two bills are harmonized.

What’s Worse Than Having an Empire?


Robert Kaplan, of Stratfor, wrote an interesting piece for The Atlantic — In Defense of Empire:

In June 1941, during the festival of Shavuot, a mob of Arab soldiers and tribesmen led a pogrom in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad, murdering well over 180 men, women, and children. The pogrom, known locally as the Farhud (“looting”), was documented by the late Baghdadi Jew and Middle East specialist Elie Kedourie in his 1970 book The Chatham House Version and Other Middle-Eastern Studies. Kedourie blamed British authorities for failing to protect the Jews, despite having taken over responsibility for Mesopotamia from the Ottoman Empire more than two decades earlier. He explained that the Jews could “cheerfully acknowledge” the “right of conquest,” whether exercised by the Ottomans or by the British, because “their history had taught them that there lay safety.” But the British failure to enforce the law and provide imperial order was the kind of transgression that ethnic and religious minorities could ill afford: traditionally, imperialism itself, most notably that of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans, had protected minorities from the tyranny of the majority. It wasn’t imperialism per se that Kedourie railed against, but weak, ineffectual imperialism.

To be sure, the British had their hands full in Mesopotamia in 1941: given the tendency of the Arab masses toward anti-Western and anti-Zionist ideologies (a tendency that was itself at least in part a reaction to British dominance), colonial authorities were desperate to keep Nazi influence out of the Middle East. As a result, the British ambassador opted for a lighter hand when at a certain point he ought to have used a heavier one. Be that as it may, what is not at issue, as Kedourie correctly stated, is the responsibility that conquest historically carried with it.

Throughout history, governance and relative safety have most often been provided by empires, Western or Eastern. Anarchy reigned in the interregnums. To wit, the British may have failed in Baghdad, Palestine, and elsewhere, but the larger history of the British Empire is one of providing a vast armature of stability, fostered by sea and rail communications, where before there had been demonstrably less stability. In fact, as the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has argued, the British Empire enabled a late-19th- and early-20th-century form of globalization, tragically interrupted by a worldwide depression, two world wars, and a cold war. After that, a new form of globalization took root, made possible by an American naval and air presence across large swaths of the Earth, a presence of undeniably imperial dimensions. Globalization depends upon secure sea lines of communication for trade and energy transfers: without the U.S. Navy, there’d be no globalization, no Davos, period.

But imperialism is now seen by global elites as altogether evil, despite empires’ having offered the most benign form of order for thousands of years, keeping the anarchy of ethnic, tribal, and sectarian war bands to a reasonable minimum. Compared with imperialism, democracy is a new and uncertain phenomenon. Even the two most estimable democracies in modern history, the United States and Great Britain, were empires for long periods. “As both a dream and a fact the American Empire was born before the United States,” writes the mid-20th-century historian of westward expansion Bernard DeVoto. Following their initial settlement, and before their incorporation as states, the western territories were nothing less than imperial possessions of Washington, D.C. No surprise there: imperialism confers a loose and accepted form of sovereignty, occupying a middle ground between anarchy and full state control.

I’m of two minds on this… I’m probably a qualified realist… isolationism and disengagement allow the Putins and al-Qaeda’s of the world too much run and thus you get what we have in Ukraine (however that turns out). Over involvement brings the entanglements President Washington warned about over 200 years ago which also ultimately allows the Putins to have too much run. Dialing down our Navy and Air Force and taking ground forces completely off the table is a recipe for disaster. In any case… it’s a thought provoking piece so go read the whole thing.