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Erik's Profile

Erik's Avatar Joined almost 7 years ago
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Go to: Stone-Throwing Chimp Thinks Ahead

Erik's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Erik

I hear tell the Houston Astros are scouting Santino for the upcoming MLB draft.

Tue, 15 May 2012 14:32:05 UTC | #941603

Go to: Beyond Reasonable Doubt? [Also in Polish]

Erik's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Erik

A related problem stems in no small part from the fact that many jurors are swayed by things that are really outside of the relevant evidence. My first step towards leaving litigation was a lecture early in my career by a seasoned litigator who produced some astonishing figures on how jurors make up their minds on a case in the opening statement. Let's not even start the discussion of how racial or ethnic prejudices figure into it.

That's why courtroom dramas can be so interesting, and aggravating -- because lawyers know that if the facts are not on your side, you had better appeal to an irrational emotion. If you're the prosecutor, that might mean something like showing gruesome photos of the victim. If you're the defense, maybe you try to make the arresting officers look like racists or opportunists willing to fudge the evidence.

So when the judge and lawyers and parties are on tenterhooks while the jury deliberates, it may be because they know the jurors could actually focus on something irrelevant. That speaks to the value or not of having a jury system, but throwing that out has its own problems.

Thu, 26 Jan 2012 16:51:54 UTC | #911742

Go to: Rick Perry and the scandal of prayer

Erik's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by Erik

I suppose the question is why someone feels that grandstanding is necessary. In other words, they must think that it actually works, and, no surprise, it does. Witness the fawning over Bush II's "Mission Accomplished" stunt. Even opponents were impressed by the sheer gall.

Perry's prayer BS works in Texas not so much because Texans are a bunch of slack-jawed believers, but because it feeds into their providentialist myths about Texas. Texans are led to believe that they are special in this world. They have also been fed a steady diet of fearmongering. The problems we have are seen as either the fault of carpetbaggers from the north, illegals from the south or criminals elements from the east. Grandstanding like this works because it is easy not to think; thinking rationally about tough problems is hard. Thinking rationally would also force Texans into facing the fact that they need to consume less and this raises the specter of having to tell children that their lifestyle might be less luxurious than their parents'. And that is political suicide.

Finally, I wish people would get over the idea that the Governor of Texas somehow has blood on his hands for every execution that happens here. While I have little doubt that Rick Perry personally approves of these, and I also find the process of death cases in Texas to be woeful, the Governor's position only allows for limited ability to interfere. Death penalty cases have an automatic appeal to the highest court for criminal cases in Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals. (Texas has a split Supreme Court; what is normally referred to as the Supreme Court only deals with civil cases.) You can criticize the Governor for not being outspoken on the injustice of the system, but not really in individual cases. The Governor cannot, for example, commute a death sentence, only postpone it for further review at the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Even our favorite Guv, Ann Richards, was reluctant to interfere. So if y'all want to point fingers, point them at bloodthirsty legislators, or at the judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Fri, 12 Aug 2011 16:15:48 UTC | #860468

Go to: Death penalty or no death penalty?

Erik's Avatar Jump to comment 126 by Erik

sunrise: You are correct. As much as I would enjoy spending more time trying to chase down stats, I ain't got it... On the subject itself, I have been trying to read through more of the literature, and it appears I was focusing too much on the defendants, and not on the victims. Here is Amnesty International's summary: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-and-race

It seems to indicate that there are 2 important race factors at play: (1) Who is the victim? and (2) Who is the defendant? I do find it a bit difficult to argue that the death penalty is wrong because white victims pull more deaths than black victims, even though that does suggest that at some level white lives are given more value than black ones. That seems an inescapable conclusion but one could justifiably (in terms of logic) go either way with it: that is, either execute fewer people who kill whites, or execute more people who kill blacks.

But the importance of these stats for this conversation is that, as I surmised, you cannot simply look at the murder rate and the rate of death sentences and draw your conclusion, because the considerable majority of death penalty cases are ones where the victim is white, far above the overall average of murder cases.

And what this summary does suggest that blacks get sentenced to death at a greater rate than whites if the victim is white. So while the media may have an agenda to push, it is not totally devoid of reason.

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 16:27:02 UTC | #844869

Go to: Death penalty or no death penalty?

Erik's Avatar Jump to comment 123 by Erik

sunrise: Could very well be. But the run of the mill murder of passion does not usually carry the death penalty unless there is some other felony crime attached to it. So looking solely at murder rates doesn't complete the picture. We also have to look at the rate at which (1) the DA seeks application of the death penalty and (2) those cases return with a death sentence. So while blacks may not be over-represented on Death Row as a matter of the overall murder rate, they may well be over-represented for cases in which the death penalty was sought. I cant' seem to find the numbers on this.

Wed, 29 Jun 2011 13:49:48 UTC | #844428

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