Do criminals have a choice?

Here is an interesting one I just came across on Wired.com. The title of this article is Are we puppets or free agents? and while the article itself is focussed on the question of whether so-called insane people have a choice when it comes to committing criminal acts, it does touch on a broader question being whether we have free will or whether we are bound by biology or circumstance? I have only quoted a portion of the article (you can view the full article here):

In 1995, the Supreme Court of Georgia heard a lawyer make a novel argument. He had read a study describing violent behavior shared by several generations of men in a Dutch family. Scientists had identified a mutated gene shared by all the violent men, and that’s what got the lawyer’s brain ticking.

The accused, argued the lawyer, might carry a gene — like the men in the Dutch family — that predisposed him to violence. (The lawyer’s client was on trial for murder.) Therefore, went the argument, the accused did not have free will, was innocent of the murder and should be acquitted.

The defense, an attempt at legal trickery remarkable even for a lawyer, failed. However, scientific discoveries, particularly advances in neuroscience, are nevertheless having profound consequences for legal procedure.

For example, the insanity plea in the United States currently requires that the accused does not know, because of mental illness, that he did wrong.

The insanity plea derives from the M’Naghten rule, a case from English law. In 1843, a man named Daniel M’Naghten attempted to assassinate the British prime minister; at his trial, he was found to be insane and the trial was abandoned. From that point on, lawyers saw the power of mounting an insanity defense, and many such claims were made.

“By the early 1980s, half the USA and most federal courts were using some sort of insanity test that incorporated elements of loss of volition,” said Robert Sapolsky of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University. “This trend abruptly reversed when the potential assassin of Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley, was acquitted.”

The acquittal caused a public outcry, and U.S. courts were put under intense pressure to make it more difficult to make a plea of insanity and to restrict claims of impaired volition. Now Sapolsky is calling for a serious reassessment of the law.

Asleep in her lap … or not

Couldn’t resist this one. Got this story titled Japanese men lap up woman of foam from IOL:

Tokyo – Japanese men who want to rest their weary heads this Christmas season are finding comfort in the lap of a woman – made of foam.

The torso-less “lap pillow” stands upright like a small cushion and resembles a woman’s legs in a miniskirt.

“Single men find this soothing,” said Mitsuo Takahashi of the seven-employee manufacturer Trane KK.

“From the time people were kids, people have laid their heads on their mothers’ laps to get their ears cleaned,” he said. “This is made to be quite close to the real thing.”

So far the company has shipped about 3 000 of the sets of laps, which are retailing for ¥9 429 (about R500) including tax, Takahashi said.

The healing goods are also selling well as gag gifts for New Year’s parties, he said.

I love this town

Picture it … Monday morning in Johannesburg. The sky is blue and the wispy clouds are scattered across the sky like dabs of white paint. It is now after 2pm and those clouds have come together and darkened and it looks like we are in for a classic Highveld storm. These storms are pretty spectacular with wild lightening and torrential downpours leaving the early evening air clean and fresh and the local landscape very green. What is not to love?

Click … blank

I had a good start to my day. I got stuck into my work and built up enough time to be able to go out for breakfast. On my way out I discovered someone brought cake for a birthday so I had cake instead of breakfast and it was all good. But then I started fiddling with the template for this blog and read help articles, signed up with Technorati and made more changes. Next thing I know I have difficulty focussing on anything other than my blog and what is displayed in my browser window and my mind begins to close off to work. I forgot about this. The experience of losing time when online. This hasn’t happened to me for years. At least not since my early years online (late 1990s). The thing now is to flip the ‘work’ switch back on and, I dunno, do some work!

Wired relationships?

I was going to post something about this article I read on the Wired site. It was written by Regina Lynn who has a regular column for Wired every Friday titled “Sex Drive”. Anyway, her most recent post is about the importance of being connected when it comes to meeting people and developing relationships. Seems like you just can’t meet anyone and start a relationship unless you are online in one form or another, whether it be IM, chatting or (ho-hum) mail. I should have started an online dating site years ago, could have made a fortune. They are goldmines because there are so many people online looking for love/lust/sex/friends/whatever in a safe environment where you can maintain a degree of anonymity and distance.

When I think back to the “old days” (all of 4 years ago) I remember how people mostly adopted a persona when chatting online and when you actually met them it was as if you had met the shadow of the fabulous being at the other side of the connection. It was as if the anonymity of the chatroom made it somehow safer to interact more fully and when it came to face to face meetings, all that personality and vibe went right out the window leaving a husk in its place. It is ironic that the Net has connected us in so many ways and, at the same time, given us more opportunities to remain strangers.

Agile Messenger

Well, I am really impressed! I was reading an article by one of my new favs and I was going to post something about her new article when I noticed a mention of an IM client for mobile devices called Agile Messenger. I duly loaded the page and downloaded the version for my Nokia 6600 phone and I am very impressed. Here is the blurb about the Agile Messenger from their site:

Agile Messenger is the most feature rich and versatile Instant Messenger for mobile phones on the market today. Agile Messenger is used daily by over 400,000 users and has been perfected based on feature requests and feedback from tens of thousands of users. No other mobile Instant Messenger is as mature and reliable as Agile Messenger.

Agile Messenger is available for every networked hand held device that allows 3rd party software to be installed.

Supported platforms include:

  • Symbian Series 60
  • Symbian UIQ
  • Microsoft Smartphone
  • Microsoft Pocket PC
  • Palm OS 3.5+
  • J2ME
  • Brew
  • WAP

Agile Messenger Features:

  • sending and receiving instant messages
  • Push to Talk
  • Unicode and BIG5 support for international characters
  • split screen messaging interface
  • separate tabs for each conversation
  • conversation history
  • smiley support
  • automatic download and updating of the contact list
  • contact status information and presence management
  • adding, removing, renaming contacts
  • data usage counter
  • auto update downloader and installer
  • picture messaging with camera support
  • “Today” plug-in (PocketPC)

Instant Messaging services supported:

  • MSN®
  • AOL®
  • Yahoo!®
  • ICQ®
  • QQ®
  • Wireless Village™
I dig this one. I connected to MSN pretty quickly and the interface is really cool. I started a conversation with a friend and sent a couple messages to her. What is particularly nice about the interface is that you see one line of the conversation in your window, irrespective of the length of the message. When you scroll up over longer posts, they open up so you can read the full message. Nice space saving feature. I had a look at one of my preferred sites to see if they had a review. Unfortunately they don’t and only mention the software as an alternative to some other effort by Orange. You can run a Google Search for Agile Messenger and you’ll find a number of sites with handy info.

Mama Lotto

You hear so many enouraging stories about people who win the lottery and revolutionise their lives. We have all seen them and we look at these people and feel the almost inevitable envy in varying degrees. I am very proud to relate this story from a South African news site about a woman who didn’t quite follow the usual lottery winner’s path:

Sharing is Mama Lotto’s motto

By Ndivhuwo Khangale

Finally, a sensible and warm-hearted Lotto winner exists.

Unlike most jackpot winners, Lydia Nkhoma did not blow her millions on an expensive lifestyle, a mansion in a wealthy suburb, holidays abroad and designer clothing.

After winning the R10-million jackpot in 2002, the 53-year-old, from the Mookgapong township in Naboomspruit, Limpopo, spent a huge chunk of her winnings on building 10 houses for family members.

On top of that, she renovated her six-room house, developed her community and invested her money.

It was the R5 she got as a tip while working as a cleaner

Nkhoma and husband Hendriek Moatshe have not been to any exotic holiday spot – it is only now that they are planning to go to Durban during the Christmas season.

“God gave me this money to help others develop themselves,” the modest woman said when The Star met her in Naboomspruit.

As Nkhoma and her husband drove through the streets, it was evident that the two were darlings in the impoverished community.

Children screamed “Mama wa Lotto”, meaning “Mother Lotto”, while adults waved at them in respect.

Nkhoma’s house is an ordinary structure painted in cream white. All she has done is to tile the walls and floors, and buy new furniture.

Apart from building three- and four-bedroom houses for her six sisters, two sons aged 24 and 33, her 31-year-old daughter and grandmother, she gave them R100 000 each and donated R7 000 to the church.

Seeing that there was no shopping complex in the area, she bought land, where a big complex is now under construction. Next to the complex is a brick company, which is run by her son and employs nine people from the community.

“There is no reason for me to stay in the suburbs because I relate better to people I grew up with. I want to see people happy and living life instead of complaining about it. This is where I belong,” said the former liquor store cleaner.

It was the R5 she got as a tip while working as a cleaner that changed her life.

On March 9 2002, Nkhoma took numbers from an old ticket and played them. She was watching the draw on TV when all of her numbers rolled out from the Lotto machine.

“I threw the ticket away, thinking that I was dreaming. I switched off the lights and tried to sleep, but I did not sleep the whole night.”

“The following morning I called my husband… He too thought I was dreaming.”

Moatshe said: “It really has changed our lives. No one works in the family because everybody has money…”

“But we don’t forget our neighbours and members of the community. This is a poor area and the people must share.”

  • nkha@star.co.za
    • This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on December 10, 2004
  • Now doesn’t that just give you warm fuzzies? Good for her! I only hope I have the good sense to emulate her when I win … :-S

    A new year begins …

    Well, yesterday was my 29th birthday and the beginning of my 30th. It didn’t really feel like my birthday actually. It felt like an ordinary day even though I took the day off as I usually do for my birthdays. I remember from birthdays past that the day brings with it a special feeling where it is as if you are this being of light walking around and everyone senses that something is not quite as it normally is and can’t quite put their fingers on it. And you are the one with the big secret for the day. You are the special one and this is your special day. This year it felt like any Saturday or Sunday where I sometimes have a ‘me’ day and wander around a bookshop or sit and update my journal. That special feeling just wasn’t there.

    It occurred to me that this feeling I was hoping for is a feeling that we could experience not just on our birthday but on all the other days of the year. Is this not a feeling we can experience all the days of our lives? Are we not magnificant beings of light and energy, truly special in our unique way? At the same time we are not special because if all beings are special and maginificant and parts of a greater whole, then no individual stands out as ‘more special’ than any other. We are all special and loved and supported and all we need do is recognise and experience that truth.

    This sayeth the sage for the day …

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