Friday, 31 July 2009

Are Juries More Leninent Than Judges?

Get your case in front of a jury rather than a judge, and you have much better chances of an acquittal, more so if you belong to an ethnic minority. Is this really true?

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Jurors or laymen and women are chosen for their integrity and law abiding conduct to help judges. Juries usually decide questions of fact while professional judges, with suitable training and experience, decide questions of law.

Jury trials have been around since the Athenian democracy (500 B.C). In ancient Athens, trials were public spectacles. 500 jurors, called
dikaste, decided capital cases involving death and upto 1500 dikaste decided property cases.

Though it has a special place in the British and American legal systems, Britain now wants to ban jury trials for serious fraud and some other inquests. Germany scrapped the jury system in 1924, as they did not see it as fair. Russia, in 2008, banned jury trials for terrorism and treason cases.

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In Islamic law countries, 12 members citizen’s juries are widely used today. Surprisingly China, Japan and South Korea are allowing more jury trials in order to increase the impartiality and independence of the legal systems.

Juries are More Lenient Than Magistrates

A study by researchers at the Legal Research Institute, University of Warwick, based on a racially mixed sample of defendants in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford shows that:

  • Defendants who took their cases to jury trial were much more likely to be acquitted than those who elected to be tried before magistrates.
  • Ethnic minority defendants expressed much greater confidence in trial at Crown Court, and in juries, than in magistrates. Magistrates were seen as biased in favour of the police. Juries, especially if they had ethnic minority members, were considered more likely to balance out any individual prejudices against black defendants.

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Jurors in Britain Are Kinder on Ethnic Minority Defendants

Jurors in British trials are more likely to be lenient to defendants from minority backgrounds. Researchers from the University of Birmingham found that the British jury system does not discriminate against those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. 

On the contrary, there is a tendency to compensate for perceived biases in the criminal justice system. The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) commissioned the research, which also found that white and black people reacted the same when summoned for jury service.

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How Juries Can Get Things Wrong

What you see on television affects you, even as a juror. The csi-effect, where TV shows distort the role of forensic evidence in solving cases affects juror behaviour greatly. The National Institute of Justice, USA research shows that jurors often have unrealistic expectations.
  • 46 % expected to see some kind of scientific evidence in every criminal case.
  • 22 % expected to see DNA evidence in every criminal case.
  • 36 % expected to see fingerprint evidence in every criminal case.
  • 32 % expected to see ballistic or other firearms laboratory evidence in every criminal case.
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The case of Rodney King is another example of the different ethnicity of jury members affecting their perception negatively. 

The jury, consisting of ten whites, one Latino and one Asian acquitted three white police officers though there was compelling evidence of police brutalilty on videotape. This miscarriage of justice led to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 resulting in 52 death and 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damages to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billions in damages.

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Complex issues like rape are very confusing even for experts of the field and jurors need better guidance from judges and experts on how to understand victim behaviour. 

Research by Professor Vanessa Munro of The University of Nottingham and Dr Louise Ellison of the University of Leeds found jurors have a poor understanding of the ways in which women may react when raped, the degrees and types of injuries they might sustain and the different behaviours they might display in the witness box.

Jurors expect all rape victims to:

  • Fight back against the rapist
  • Have serious physical injuries
  • Report the offence immediately
  • Appear tearful and distressed when recounting their experiences in court.
In reality, rape victims may not always behave in such manner.

Media Can Affect Jurors Easily

India abolished the jury system in 1959, after the sensational trial of Naval Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati for murdering the lover of his English wife. 

The jurors saw the handsome man as representing a wronged husband and found him not guilty with an 8-1 verdict but the judge referred the case to the Bombay high court. The High Court and the Supreme Court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

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In Spain, where there is not much faith in the jury system, the
Wanninkhof case of 1999, was a miscarriage of justice by jurors. 

The jurors found Dolores Vázquez, the lesbian lover of Alicia, the mother of the murdered 19-year old girl Rocío Wanninkhof guilty because the media painted her so. The real killer was later found to be an Englishman, Tony Alexander King.

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Jury Decisionmaking Models Not Very Reliable

Can you predict easily how a certain jury will sentence the accused?

Research by Tanya S. Taylor and Harmon M. Hosch of the Department of Psychology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA, found that all theoretical models for predicting the outcomes of jury decisionmaking are only models. 

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The relationships among juror and defendant characteristics and their influence on trial outcomes are extremely complex and cannot be forecasted. Case strength, defendant ethnicity, and jury composition were related to sentence lengths.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Poor or rich enough - Is Your Income Enough for You?

Is the money you earn enough for you? – Somewhat quasi-scientifically, I’ve been asking this question from people I meet. They don’t have to disclose the income, but just answer if they are satisfied with their income. The hundreds (over 500) of people I’ve talked to, from all income levels, age groups, professions and ethnicities, both men and women; have generally said “It’s never enough. I could do with more.” What does this tell about humans?

Just a few (5%) have said that “Yes, I earn more than I need. Actually I don’t need all this.”

Now I wonder which is more surprising - the shortage of people happy with what they earn or that there are even this many?

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

How High is Your Income?

The median annual family income in USA is around 46 000 US $. This is only 5,02 cms of US $ 100 bills.

The richest American, Bill Gates, with around $ 50 Billion (now that he’s poorer due to the recession) would reach a height of over 50 km if he piled his wealth in 100$ bills. It is impossible for him to convert his wealth into banknotes as there are only 2 billion US$ bills in circulation. The US Treasury wouldn’t be too eager to print more for him as printing a new $ bill costs $8.02.

Mr Bill Gates could probably reach the moon if he piled his wealth using Zimbabwean dollars.

You can calculate the height of your annual income easily.

  • First convert your annual income to US dollars. One US dollar bill is 0.010922 cm thick. 
  • Then calculate how many 100 US dollar bills (use 1 US dollar bills if you are in teaching, taking care of the sick and the old or are a writer in India or Namibia) you get per year 
  • Multiply that amount by 0.010922 cm to get your annual income height in cms.

Earning More than Others is Important

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Rather than the actual earning, the relative earning or comparative spending power is more important for many people, especially younger and ambitious men. In societies like the USA, raw money power is measured by conspicuous consumption. This trend has spread to former Eastern Block countries including China.

In societies, like the Scandinavian welfare societies, where incomes are more evenly distributed, people compare their incomes less with their neighbours. But they compare instead with history.
“I earn much more than my father.” or “My grandfather could never have afforded what I can.” are often typical sentiments.
Economists measure inequality among people in societies with measures like the Gini, Theil and Hoover Index (also called the Robin Hood index). Hoover Index measures the total community income that would have to be taken from the richer half of the population and given to the poorer half so that perfect equality is achieved.

Women Complain About Earning Less

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Women in Western democracies persistently complain that they earn less than men.

Is that a fact?

The research findings of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a UK free market think tank since 1955, are startling:
  • Women’s mean part-time earnings are now higher than those of male part-timers.
  • 22-29 year old women earn only 1% less than men
  • Men tend to work longer hours and put in more overtime, with twice as many male as female managers working more than 48 hours a week.
  • Typically men seek higher pay and career success and women seek job satisfaction.
  • 75% of women plan to take a career break against 12% of men.
  • Men lose their jobs more often and get injured more often at work.

Yet another research finding discloses that in USA, female graduates earn $8,000 less than men per year a year after graduating. Men earned $42,918, women earned $35,296 in 2009.

Famous Quotes About Income

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“When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.” Plato, Greek Philosopher (428 – 348 B.C.)
“Expenditure rises to meet income.” C. Northcote Parkinson (English writer 1909-1993)
“Good management is better than good income.” Portuguese proverb. 
“Between persons of equal income there is no social distinction except the distinction of merit. Money is nothing: character, conduct, and capacity are everything. There would be great people and ordinary people and little people, but the great would always be those who had done great things, and never the idiots whose mothers had spoiled them and whose fathers had left them a hundred thousand a year; and the little would be persons of small minds and mean characters, and not poor persons who had never had a chance. That is why idiots are always in favour of inequality of income (their only chance of eminence), and the really great in favour of equality.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Irish playwright and 1925 Nobelist.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Jihad Against the Smokers!

Some people have a perverse conviction that they know what is good for all the people. They try to convince everyone that by banning some activity we shall all live happily ever after.

Photo source: NHS campaign

What is wrong if some people are happy to use their penis for what they use it for?

Do all people want to live potent lives?

If some people live a healthy lifestyle in a manner prescribed by some experts, will this make everyone happy? Or shall we soon discover new ways of getting unhealthy and being unhappy?

Telling people to think with their penis is a tall order, even for people who think they have too short willies. 

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In the first place, many people do not like to be told how to think with their brains either.

Despots and divine rulers do not need to justify their actions. Decisionmakers in democracies don’t have that privilege. They need scapegoats just like dictators and despots, but they have to justify their actions by the findings of "science". Smoking, especially second-hand-smoking or passive smoking is on the firing line in many countries.

The Nazis blamed the communists and Jews for introducing smoking to the German Aryan master race and trying to corrupt them (Proctor, 1999:179). Hitler (a heavy smoker who gave up smoking as a waste of money), personally believed smoking as decadent and a revenge of the Red Man against White Man (Proctor, 1999:219).

Modern Mechanism of Smoking Bans

Nowadays scientific studies by “independent” committees give the arguments. Then politicians deny that any measure for banning a popular activity like smoking is ever going to see the daylight. “Suddenly” comes the ban. But behind the scenes, a vampire army of lawyers in search of someone to sue has already been active and won landmark cases before any politician in his/her sane mind even thinks of a ban.

Britain’s public health minister Caroline Flint (who admitted smoking cannabis as a student but not liking it) said in June 2005 that any suggestion of a smoking ban was “false speculation”. Then the British parliament voted for total ban just nine months later.

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Smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc) is a universal habit nowadays. 

  • China is the king of the tobacco league – 30% of the planet’s 5,5 trillion cigarettes are produced and consumed in China. 
  • The USA comes second with 12% production, though tobacco is produced in about 100 countries globally. 
  • The largest tobacco company in the world, China National Tobacco Co. belongs to The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration or STMA, which is the organisation responsible for enforcing the tobacco monopoly in China. They don’t have even a website.

History of Smoking Bans

  • The first recorded ban on smoking is from 1575 in Mexico, when the Catholic Church bans tobacco usage in any form throughout the Spanish colonies.
  • The first country to ban smoking totally is Bhutan.
  • The first global ban is by Pope Urban VIII (1623-44). He threatened with excommunication anyone using tobacco (smoking or snuffing) in any holy place.
  • The first ban on using and cultivating tobacco is from China 1612.
  • The first death penalty for smoking is from 1617 in Mongolia. 
  • In Russia from 1634, for the first offence one got whipping, a slit nose and exile to Siberia and death sentence for the second offence.
  • The first use of the term “passive smoking” is by the Nazis.
  • The first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy was the wooden Old Government Building in Wellington, New Zealand in 1876 due to the threat of fire
  • The first country in the world to have a comprehensive nation-wide smoke-free workplace is Ireland with its law of 29th March 2004. 
Since the early 2000s most of the developed countries have some form of ban on smoking in public places.

Medieval Punishment Back in Anti Smoking

In some cultures like Finland, where they had the medieval punishment called pillory, anti-smoking has traces of the old punish-by-public-shaming element in it. Though these modern gas chambers are comfortable state-of-the-art in ventilation, the non-smokers can gaze publicly at the smokers practising their vice and feel holier for not being an addict of the vice.

Anyone really interested in the history of anti-smoking could read this excellent book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist by Christopher Snowdon. Little Dice; 415 pages.

I am not a smoker. I totally agree that passive smoking is a nuisance. Nowadays in countries with public smoking bans, your clothes don’t reek anymore if you go out and I appreciate that greatly.

But I am amused to see how smokers have suddenly become the underdogs and well, sinners have rights too. By the way, where is the government going to get revenues from if everyone stops smoking? Are they going to bring in taxes for breathing fresh air?

Which Countries Allow Public Smoking?

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Where in the world is smoking in public allowed? Hardly anywhere, legally that is. These countries officially allowing smoking in public places are becoming rare.

  • Madagascar - Except in taxis and Antananarivo International airport and Air Madagascar Flights
  • Malawi - no legislation
  • Namibia - smoke free law planned
  • Romania - Bars and restaurants have to carry signs if they are smoking or non-smoking
  • Russia - No country-wide smoke-free law

Famous Sayings about Smoking

  • I kissed my first girl and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I haven't had time for tobacco since. Arturo Toscanini

  • To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know because I've done it a thousand times. Mark Twain, attributed
  • I thought I couldn't afford to take her out and smoke as well. So I gave up cigarettes. Then I took her out and one day I looked at her and thought: "Oh well," and I went back to smoking again, and that was better. Benny Hill


  • Proctor, Robert (1999), The War on Cancer, Princeton University Press.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

How Did Dinosaurs Put on Condoms?

How did dinosaurs put on condoms?” My pesky 9-year old nephew suddenly asked. Kids ask strange questions. Are kids designed to embarrass parents and adult relatives? Or is it because kids have inquisitive minds not yet spoilt by “education”.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) having fun with condoms in front of ladies.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

How Should Your Kids Learn About Sex?

  • Parents should teach their kids all about sex.
  • Sexual education should be left to trained teachers at school.
  • Let them learn from the media and computers.
  • My peers and friends taught me about sex. So will theirs.
  • The trial and error method works best.

Which of the above would you choose for your kids?

How Kids Learn About Sex

Kids, in many countries nowadays learn the facts about reproductive sex at school. Earlier one learnt from older relatives or friends. They usually fed you cock and bull myths. If you were not so well informed, you stumbled to adult bliss or sudden parenthood through trial and error.

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In most contemporary societies a teenager is under extreme pressure to become a sexual top performer. S/he “knows” that civilization on any other planet is a myth like the unicorn or the Loch Ness monster but G-spots have precise geometrical coordinates. In the search for the holy G, do you go straight, turn left or right? “Turn left at Greenland!” is what John Lennon replied when asked by reporters “How did you find America?

Magazines, available everywhere, and those modern “self-styled shamans” called TV-psychologist or Relationship expert offer standards for orgasmic peaks and preferred length, type and frequency of sexual behaviour. You are not “normal” if you don’t have it 3.6 times a day in five different poses giving you earth shattering rapture each and every time.

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Things may be different in families:
  • Living in war-torn countries like Afghanistan or Somalia where surviving is at the top of their minds. It is the parents’ duty to occasionally be blessed with children. Children are promptly smacked if they ask questions about sex.
  • Living in cultures where cultural values prohibit discussing sex. You (meaning adults) do it but never talk about it. Children learn all kinds of A Thousand and one night stories about sex from older kids. Eventually kids get married, have babies and live happily/unhappily ever after. If they end up believing that sex was invented just to annoy neighbours, they spend their money and time on therapy or becoming grumpy. If they go for DIY (do it yourself) fixes, they spend money on porn or chase other people in pursuit of elusive sexual raptures or even discover that there’s more to life than rubbing waste disposal areas together.
  • Where parents actually bring up their children with love, guidance and encourage them in hobbies, help them get education they value, teach them to live with people they care about and become well-adjusted valued members of society.

A Dutch study of 63 kids aged 2-6 found that they had only basic knowledge of genital differences, gender identity, sexual body parts and functions of the genitals, knowledge of pregnancy and birth, reproduction and adult sexual behaviour.

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Why would 2-6 year olds need all this knowledge? Many adults seem to be doing fine with knowing less.

Parents Affect Their Children’s Sexual Behaviour the Most

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons (Apologies to the parents of people in this picture)

Studies by the American National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 38% of teen parents said that their parent’s behaviour shaped theirs and this influence was much greater than the influence of friends, the media, educators, siblings and religious organisations.

A Korean study found that fathering (warmth and involvement measured by frequency of task share) was not a significant factor in their children’s sex role orientations. This study however, found that girls’ femininity was significantly related to the father’s masculinity. This brings hope that children after all don’t always become like their fathers.

Can You Blame Your Children’s Sexual Behaviour on the TV?

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In the late 1970s, research by Paul E. McGhee and Terry Frueh of Fels Research Institute Ohio, USA found that heavy viewers of TV retain male stereotypes over time but moderate viewers don’t. 

They found no effect on female stereotypes. 

If your son's going to behave like Conan the Barbarian or James Bond if he watches television 20 hours a day, then you know who gets the credits.

How Do Same-Sex Parents Bring Up Their Children?

Photo source: Wikimedia commons

A research of 500 American households for Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, USA reveals that children brought up in same-sex households (both live-in parents are gay or lesbians) have equally good self-esteem, gender identity or overall emotional health compared to healthy children brought up in healthy straight families.

Outsourcing Sex Education - The perils
  • Some parents in Vietnam seems to prefer outsourcing the sex education of their kids. Dan Nang City Youth Union has teamed up with a travel agency, Viet Da Travel Company to give culture specific sex education to Vietnamese youngsters without promoting sexual experimentation, they claim. 
  • In Sweden sex education was outsourced to schools in 1955. 
A Catholic bishop in Mexico Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas turns things upside down and blames sex education and pornography for some of the clergy's inability to keep away from children in a sexual way! That's real ingenuity in blame shifting! Why didn't other convicted pedophiles think of it?

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Good Teachers are the Best Sex Educators

Is it true that good teachers are the best sex educators?

Recent study by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky found that students learn more about sex and relationship issues when taught by their regular classroom teacher, whom they get to trust more than casual teachers or other sources of information.

So how did the dinosaurs put on condoms? 

Hmm! If we dump the parents as dinosaurs metaphor and think of real dinosaurs, we don’t have any information of their sex lives. 

But according to one theory, dinosaurs got their bang and earth shattering experience when a large disaster (asteroid) hit the earth off the Texas coast, 65 million years before George Bush II ruled America.

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