For those offended by the mob attack on the Indiana pizzeria for anti-gay thought crimes, there's a "Go Fund Me" site benefiting the pizzeria owners.  This in turn has sparked outrage from the compassionate progressives, one of whom (acting as a journalist or an activist, but I repeat myself) reported the Go Fund Me project "for fraud, just in case."  Can it be long before Go Fund Me is itself the subject of boycotting?  Nothing will be left then but the need to set up a new site through which relief can be funneled, until the online response to the outrage of the week becomes an even more unrestrained free-for-all.

Absurd as the whole spectacle is, I'm pleased to see supporters of the pizzeria adopt civil and effective tactics to combat bullying, and I admit to pleasure at the vein-popping reaction on the left.

Different Scales

This sounds right, but I wonder if the results would hold up in a non-Western country?
You find a time machine and travel to 1920. A young Austrian artist and war veteran named Adolf Hitler is staying in the hotel room next to yours. The doors aren't locked, so you could easily stroll next door and smother him. World War II would never happen.

But Hitler hasn't done anything wrong yet. Is it acceptable to kill him to prevent World War II?

This is one moral dilemma that researchers often use to analyze how people make difficult decisions. Most recently, one group re-analyzed answers from more than 6,000 subjects to compare men's and women's responses. They found that men and women both calculate consequences such as lives lost. But women are more likely to feel conflicted over what to do. Having to commit murder is more likely to push them toward letting Hitler live.

"Women seem to be more likely to have this negative, emotional, gut-level reaction to causing harm to people in the dilemmas, to the one person, whereas men were less likely to express this strong emotional reaction to harm," Rebecca Friesdorf, the lead author of the study, tells Shots.
If the findings held up, it would seem to have significant consequences even within a given culture in which those findings held. It would be more interesting by far, though, if it proved to hold in non-WEIRD countries. Then you'd have enough difference in nurture to have pretty good reason to suspect a difference in nature.

Good Friday: Crucifixion in the News

The National Review has a piece on the revival of crucifixion, which is apparently enjoying a rush of popularity in ISIS-controlled territory.
Father Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, based in Grad Rapids, Mich., offered me these reflections on this ghastly phenomenon:
Crucifixion is as barbaric now as it was when the Romans inflicted this form of capital punishment on Jesus. There are several rubs in this for the Christian: Because we hold to a reverence for human life, this must include even the lives of our persecutors. Their lives are also precious — so precious, in fact, that we are obliged to pray for their conversion. Additionally, while each of us is taught to expect such persecution, and even admonished by Christ to take up our own cross and follow him, we see the cross in many forms these days. Of course the most obvious and brutal form, that you identify here, but it also comes in more subtle and sophisticated forms like the Christophobia evident in the secular hostility to letting Christians practice their faith. Still, this reality does not exempt the Christian from seeing the dignity even in their persecutors nor in developing prudent and effective ways to combat the persecution.
Father Sirico takes the high road of forgiveness, as Catholic priests usually do. When ISIS members reach the Pearly Gates, they can beg for mercy. Civilization’s urgent challenge is to get them to stare up at Saint Peter at the earliest possible moment.
It takes all kinds to make a world.

The End of Democracy, by Silicone Valley

Democracy in America is dead, according to Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.

No, not in the anthropological, Alexander-de-Toqueville sense. The PayPal co-founder means it literally.

"It's not clear we're living in anything resembling a democracy," he told a crowd Tuesday at George Mason University. "We're living in a republic that's modified by a judicial system, that's been largely superseded by these agencies that drive the decision-making."

"Calling our society a democracy is very misleading," Thiel went on. "We're not a republic; we're not a constitutional republic. We live in a state that's dominated by these technocratic agencies."
So, is he right?
The real picture is much more complicated. Take the growing concentration of executive authority. As Vox's Dylan Matthews explains, it's a rational reaction to other institutions' chronic inability to govern. The White House couldn't allow the government to default on its debt in 2011, no matter what happened in Congress.

They knew that, if push came to shove, they had to have a way out … Obama would have shredded the debt ceiling. Republicans would have said it was an unprecedented executive power grab, and Democrats would have told them to calm down, it's not that bad. They're both right: Obama would have been claiming new powers, but that wouldn't have involved some kind of epic descent into tyranny.

The point is not that executive power grabs could never lead to tyranny but that executive power grabs rarely happen in a vacuum. Of course agencies have an incentive to expand their jurisdictions. But the idea that the entire dog of government (or the country, even) is being wagged by the tail of agencies is a little far-fetched when we know there are so many other factors that play a role in decision-making.
Two examples of "other factors" given oddly dovetail, though: the lobbying by powerful corporate interests, and the revolving door between business and government -- to whit, those same agencies being mentioned as 'wagging the dog.' I'm not sure that really qualifies as "other factors" -- it sounds to me like "further evidence."

It's an interesting critique. I'm not sure where it leaves us, though. If he's right that Washington is no longer adding value, presumably at some point its power will begin to wither. That point has not yet been reached.


Via Maggie's Farm, a Rube Goldberg Passover seder:


The Georgia Legislature Wraps Up A Banner Year

Having killed their own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Georgia's Legislature is considering a bill that would regulate churches if they talk about politics around election time. Wonder why they might be concerned about that?
First Georgia Republicans cut a deal with Democrats. They would kill Georgia’s RFRA legislation in exchange for Democrats supporting roughly a billion dollar tax increase.

Not content to deprive Christians of religious protection, Georgia Republicans have decided to go after churches and other non-profits directly.... According to the legislation, any organization that engages in “election targeted issue advocacy” within 180 days of an election is subject to regulation by the state. What is “election targeted issue advocacy”? If any person or group writes about a candidate, uses the image of an elected official or candidate, or discusses a ballot initiative, the person or group doing that can be regulated.

Voter education, in other words, is going to be regulated by the State of Georgia. But there is also another wrinkle in this.
Georgia Republicans, mind you, are the ones who are raising taxes, killing religious freedom protections, and suppressing free speech by churches. Or should I say Georgia Republicans? Thank goodness our legislature is forbidden to operate more than forty days a year. It's like a plague of locusts.

UPDATE: The Georgia Senate killed the speech-regulating bill in the last half-hour of the session. In the last four minutes of the session both houses took up a major tax bill that almost no one had read, as it was cobbled together today. The speaker just instructed delegates "Take your seats. Desist throwing objects."

UPDATE: Witching hour. The House passed the tax bill in the last seconds. The Senate appears to have hung up on procedure, and drifted past midnight. They are still in session, considering the tax bill in apparent defiance of the law.

UPDATE: The Senate passed the tax bill after midnight, which should produce an interesting legal challenge. What was so important, you ask?

Ho-Hum: An Iran "Deal"

Except it isn't, apparently: it's not an actual agreement to do anything except meet and talk further along certain lines. It sounds like there's some lack of agreement about what lines those are:
Following the signing of an interim agreement with Iran aimed at scaling back its nuclear work, Iran accused the United States of lying about details of the agreement.

On Thursday evening, Zarif told reporters the latest agreement allows Iran to keep operating its nuclear program.

“None of those measures” that will move to scale back Iran’s program “include closing any of our facilities,” Zarif said. “We will continue enriching; we will continue research and development.”

“Our heavy water reactor will be modernized and we will continue the Fordow facility,” Zarif said. “We will have centrifuges installed in Fordow, but not enriching.”

The move to allow Iran to keep centrifuges at Fordow, a controversial onetime military site, has elicited concern that Tehran could ramp up its nuclear work with ease.
Sounds like he's re-opening negotiations to me. So instead of the deal by 31 March -- another American 'red line' passes away without even a whimper of enforcement -- we get another few weeks in which Iran will make additional demands and claim they were already agreed to in order to set the stage for the next round.

Israel's not happy, but I don't see that they have anything more to be unhappy about today than yesterday. A framework isn't a deal. When parties to it are contesting the content using words like "lying," it isn't even a framework.

Stalingrad Re-enactment

Pretty impressive kit.

Speaking of the ME

And speaking of overplaying one's hand:
Support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at nearly a 20-year low among Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Only 39 percent of respondents in the poll expressed support for a two-state solution, down from 58 percent in 2003, according to a Gallup Poll.


Want to reduce inequality and poverty? We already know what works best.

Who cares about the Middle East?

Not us any more, argues Holman Jenkins, because of fracking. They had only one card to play, and they let it get reproduced elsewhere.

The Virtue of a Good Woman

How much was in her, and how much in the man who loved her? How to tell?

Hayek v. J. S. Mill. Mill at least was a true lover, and therefore is due a good end.

Can't Vouch for the "Young"

Twice in the last couple of weeks I've met SUVs in my lane while riding my motorcycle, once 3/4s of the way in my lane (in a curve on a hill), and the other time 100% of the way in my lane while I was carrying my wife as passenger. Both times they were women on their cell phones, apparently completely mentally removed from the world in which they were navigating a heavy weight motor vehicle down a road at high speed.

They weren't young women, though. Both of them were about my mother's age. The second one shot us the bird after she wrestled her car back into her lane, as if she was deeply and personally offended that she'd had to leave off her pleasant conversation for an emergency lane change. I assume the truth is that she was embarrassed and defensive. Still, it's a good thing my wife wasn't in control of the direction of the motorcycle on that occasion. To judge from her commentary once we got to town, she was ready to rip that woman's lungs out and salt them.

Blowing one's mind

I subscribe to Quora, which sometimes sends me interesting emails with questions and surprising crowd-sourced answers. In this morning's inbox was a request for recommendations of books to expand the mind. Two surprising results: I had read very, very few of the recommended books, and Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" was the hands-down consensus winner. Now I suppose I'll have to read it. The recommendations were about 10-1 in favor of non-fiction, also surprising. After Kahneman, some of the biggest hits were Richard Feynmann's "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feyman" (also a favorite of mine) and various Jared Diamond works, usually "Collapse" or "Guns, Germs and Steel." Only one person suggested "Lolita," and no one seemed to care for "The Tin Drum" or "Absalom, Absalom" or "The Abolition of Man." The science fiction recommendations mostly were things I wouldn't read on a bet. "Atlas Shrugged" made a fairly frequent appearance. Lots of Malcolm Gladwell and Richard Dawkins. I expected a higher profile for "1984."

"Take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel..."

Turns out this Old English potion works.
The researchers tested the concoction on cultures of MRSA bacteria in synthetic wounds as well as in rats. No individual ingredient had no effect on the cultures, but the combined liquid killed almost all the cells; only about one in 1,000 bacteria survived. At more dilute concentrations, the salve didn’t kill the bacteria, but still interrupted their communication, preventing them from damaging tissues.

"The Century of the Self"

Here is a fascinating BBC documentary about the use of Freud and psychoanalysis, especially by government, during the 20th Century. It's about four hours long, but it's well worth watching. Set aside an hour a night for a few days.

Schiarazula Marazula by Giorgio Mainerio

Three variations. First, on simple guitar so you can get the sense of the piece.

Second, in a traditional style with traditional instruments.

Third, rewritten in the Romantic style with a modern orchestra.