Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Post No. 186l: Consider This: The Man with the Gun is Crying Out for Help

We first generated this piece a couple of years ago. At the time, we were concerned about the public's (and the media's) rush to judgment with respect to people in the public eye. We continue to be concerned about how people seem to have their minds made up regarding any issue based on their personal experience, and prior to receiving any credible evidence (if there is such a thing).

Upon watching the George Zimmerman trial, it occurred to us that attorneys are willing to risk making any argument, no matter how bizarre or specious, because they know some folks will buy it. The same apparently applies in politics, and life in general.

Are we so conflicted as a people that many of us prefer our personal biases to evidence? And why do some of us latch onto isolated points which support the result we desire or envision? Watching the commentary about this trial (particularly the Twitter stream) reveals much about us a people, as does the Paula Deen situation.

You see, it's really not about Trayvon, or George, or Paula as much as how we view ourselves and those around us. Trayvon, George, and Paula just happen to be front, center, and in the spotlight, right now.

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Last week, a staff member made a pound cake, and brought it into the office. Although the cake looked fine to us, she said that she became distracted while baking it, and that we might find the bottom a “little crunchy” because she baked it 20 minutes too long.

While we were transforming into Pillsbury Doughboys, Betty Crocker’s Father stopped by. He was serving as a juror on a jury trial at the courthouse down the street, and wanted a piece of his daughter’s cake. She also warned him of the potential crunchiness and the reason for it.

He appeared to enjoy the cake, but insisted that she baked it with the oven rack at the wrong level in her stove. Thinking that he did not hear her say that she baked the cake too long, she mentioned it again.

“I heard you the first time; that doesn’t matter.” he snapped, “What I’m saying is that you need to change the rack level.”

For the overly analytical ones of us here at the Institute, our thoughts instantly went to, “And this guy is serving as a juror?” We all hoped that he was serving on a civil jury, where only money was involved, and not someone’s liberty.

But there were 2 other experiences we had last week which made us further question the ability of criminal defendants to get a fair trial, apart from the efforts of the Nancy Graces of the world to convict them immediately after arrest and before booking is completed.

We previously mentioned our connections to the O.J. trial when the Institute was headquartered in Los Angeles. A friend of the Institute who knew of those connections called us shortly after “Tot Mom” Casey Anthony was acquitted in the death of her daughter, and said that it reminded her of the O.J. trial. The acquittal made her once again question our entire legal system.

She was apparently a fly in the jury room during the deliberations. Shortly thereafter, another tenant in our building asked whether we had heard of Anthony’s acquittal, and then immediately launched into how Anthony’s delay in reporting her daughter missing led her to believe that she was guilty. We suspect that there were enough stale donuts left in the jury room to support multiple flies.

These days, we aren’t quite sure how anyone receives a fair trial, with electronic media spewing sound bites at the speed of light. We seriously doubt that many take the time to digest even 1/100th of the evidence or facts involved, and yet they arrive at a conclusion.

To which they are entitled, no doubt.

We recall a friend once suggesting that because she saw photos of the mayhem inflicted on Nicole Brown Simpson’s body, she knew that O.J. was guilty. And of course, the former head of the International Monetary Fund was guilty, because the rich prey on the poor and consider themselves above the law.

We’re not quite sure whether this is what the Founding Fathers envisioned early on.

But as they often say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

For most students of the law, the line between civil and criminal offenses is fairly clear, and there is even a different burden of proof built into our system of jurisprudence. And white collar folks, whether rightly or wrongly, don’t expect to find themselves locked up in a jail cell with “common criminals.”

(We can almost guarantee you that hundreds of our readers across the globe, upon reading the preceding paragraph thought out loud, “But they should!”)

Horse manure is about to hit the fan soon, and the whole notion of innocence until proven guilty is about to be severely tested. Just continue to follow this phone hacking scandal involving News of the World. What prompted us to write this piece was an e-mail alert from the New York Times just a couple of hours ago, entitled, “An Arrest and Scotland Yard Resignation Roil Britain.” Upon reading the e-mail further, it noted that Britain’s most highly ranked police official resigned, and Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International, was arrested.

Over the years, there have been calls in some circles for expert or professional jurors to address some of the imperfections associated with lay jurors. But one of the principles built into the system is that one is entitled to be judged by a jury of his or her peers.

For the sake of the system, and all involved, we sure hope that neither our pound cake crunching retiree, our disillusioned friend in California, our fellow tenant in our building, nor Nancy Grace are on Ms. Brooks’ jury.

She wouldn’t have a chance in hell.

Well, but then again, it could be worse. We could only allow politicians to serve as jurors….

Hmm..., but then they would never reach a verdict.


  1. Excellent. And timely... prescient almost, considering when it was first written. But these things happen all the time, don't they? And people react emotionally first, logically (or, if you prefer, rationally) second,,, if ever.

    I really liked this line:

    We seriously doubt that many take the time to digest even 1/100th of the evidence or facts involved, and yet they arrive at a conclusion.

  2. Thanks much, Douglas.

    Yes these things do happen all the time. What's different these days is that some of them are on TV almost 24 hours a day, with almost every question, gesture, ruling, attitude being analyzed every few minutes, followed by the venting of millions on new media / social networking platforms.

    As a society, we may be well on our way to driving ourselves crazy.

  3. I think we are beyond the "driving" stage and well into "crazy." As a society, that is. A few of us seem to be still somewhat sane.

  4. Douglas:

    Some time back, we generated a post entitled, Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest God’s Pissed. Our collective insecurity about our future is driving us crazy. The only way, of which we are aware, to address that is to use every avenue we ordinary citizens have to create jobs ourselves, and not rely on the solutions proposed by government or large corporations.

  5. The only way? No others come to mind? Seems rather depressing. Not that I disagree that the private sector must create the jobs. If government is the sole (or nearly the sole) employer, the tax revenues couldn't cover the outlay.... even in the "good times."

  6. By "the only way," we meant to say that the primary way for society to relieve ourselves of a sense of insecurity is to take control of what we can do to generate jobs, not not wait or rely on government or large corporations, as if they are the only job creators out there. Our position is that each individual should view job creation as an opportunity to dictate our economic destiny.

  7. As I understand it, small businesses are the greatest producers of jobs. And I agree with you about taking responsibility for ourselves is the best method for relieving our anxieties and insecurity. However, we have been conditioned from birth to rely on outside forces called "parents" who provide for our needs. As we grow into adulthood, society tends to instill the idea of government or corporation (and, sometimes, union)as surrogate parent. I agree we need to resist that conditioning and, I believe, many of us do but not enough certainly.

  8. Douglas;

    We share the same understanding regarding small businesses being the greatest source of jobs in America. We strongly suspect that one reason for this development was that large corporations shifted their jobs offshore.

  9. That may be so in the last 2 or 3 decades but I wonder if it is not true that small businesses have always been the primary source of new jobs. That is, large corporations rarely expand their personnel in great numbers but, instead, have fairly stable workforce numbers. I was fortunate enough to be grabbed up by a large corporation (Ma Bell) at a time of expansion but I suspect that expansion was more a replacing of an aging workforce moving toward and into retirement. There are ebbs and flows in employment. There was little action on employment after I was hired until the early 80's (about 12-15 years after I hired on) and that was mostly replacing workers. We also began downsizing about that time with an emphasis not on outsourcing but on computerization and efficiencies. Of course, Ma Bell was unique in having little to outsource overseas.

  10. Betty's Pa was probably right - he was a father, he had experienced burnt cakes, and his daughter might have had a tendency not to listen. I don't know, he does - but you question his suitability as a juror?

    'credible evidence (if there is such a thing).' There is, mixed in with the lies and showmanship. But to those who prefer belief to pondering evidence it's a moot point.

    However, 'prejudice' is often the only guide to millions of good simple people who have no access to evidence in many issues they need to decide on. Sad but true.

    Either George or Martin DID cry for help.... we heard at least one person say 'don't go out there' (it might be dangerous)

    And some of your 'leaders' still want more people to carry guns around with them. And some of your citizens don't know why not! Sad but true.

  11. Well back CorfuBob:

    The reason we questioned Betty's Father's suitability as a juror is that he based his conclusion, not on the paucity of evidence available to him in connection with the specific cake being eaten (and provided by someone who had a personal, first hand appreciation of what caused the crunchiness), but rather his personal experience which arguably might be relevant, but certainly was not in issue in connection with this cake.

    You are absolutely correct regarding the function of prejudice. As we once wrote, we believe that it is a survival mechanism built into our DNA. However, when we animals with bigger brains have the time to evaluate situations, and not react just on instinct, we ought to be able to rise above, especially in connection with service as a juror in a criminal jury trial. On a day to day basis, rising above prejudice may not be as important, in the grand scheme of things.

    Thanks, as always.

  12. Private enterprise has done a grand job of brainwashing you all (can i say y'all?) into thinking that government cannot (as in CAN NOT) build and run enterprises. Even if it takes 5 talented people to do the work of one genius CEO they can still earn high salaries and be under the control of humans with visions that include general welfare, health, and education of the workforce. Profits are inherent in good produce that people actually want. Markets would operate just the same, but not exploited by criminals in sharp suits with control of media.


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