Tag Archives: cool facts

Why Does India Have so Many Criminal Politicians?

Source: Why do many India MPs have criminal records? via BBC

An interesting recent article explaining why so many of India’s national level politicians have extensive – to include felony – criminal records.  It apparently all boils down to money.

In the country’s last general election in 2014, 554 million Indian voters cast their ballots at 900,000 polling booths, choosing their elected leaders amongst a field of 8,250 elected candidates representing 464 political parties.  While this may sound like great news for the world’s largest democracy, the remarkable thing is that one third (34 percent) of the 543 elected members of parliament (India’s version of Congress) also were facing criminal charges at the time – up from 30 percent in 2009 and 24 percent in 2004.  While some of the new MPs faced misdemeanor level charges, a whopping 20 percent faced more serious charges such ranging from attempted murder to assault and theft.

According to political scientist Milan Vaishnav, who authored a soon to be released book, When Crimes Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, the reason for this is money.  His take:

The rising cost of elections and a shadowy election financing system where parties and candidates under-report collections and expenses means that parties prefer “self-financing candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute ‘rents’ to the party”. Many of these candidates have criminal records.

Moreover, Vaishnav says, Indians are apparently less likely to be fazed by a politician with a criminal background, and that even well-informed voters may vote for criminal candidates along religious lines or by caste.

Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians? [via BBC] and India’s New Parliament Has The Most Members Facing Criminal Charges In A Decade [via The Huffington Post]

Which Countries Have the Best Passports?

A rundown of the relative power of each country’s passports – interesting because this is a rough gauge of a given country’s peace and prosperity level.  You can see which country is # 1 in that its nation’s passport holders are accepted visa-free by more countries than any other (Germany, with 157 other countries accepting its citizens without a visa). Closely behind in the # 2 spot is Sweden and Singapore, with 156 countries, and right behind them in # 3 is the United States and seven other countries, at visa-free 155 countries.

The site, which bills itself as “the only live global ranking of passports, updated as frequently as new visa waivers and changes are announced,” also lets you see what passport covers from around the world look like side by side (burgundy red is in fashion across most of Europe, blue in the Americas, and green in Africa and the Middle East).

Passport Index [via source]

All Drugs Have Been Legal in Portugal Since 2000… So What’s Happened Since?

Source: Washington Post

Well, technically drugs aren’t completely legal in Portugal (trafficking in and selling them will still earn you to a ticket to jail).  But since 2000 possession of all drugs for personal use has been decriminalized to where if you are caught carrying a small amount of any drug, at worst it would earn you a small fine and you would be sent on your way, with no arrest or criminal record. (This amounts to a 10-day supply  —  a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine, two grams of cocaine, or 25 grams of cannabis). Despite this, deaths due to drug overdose are the second-lowest in the European Union.  HIV infections have also dropped dramatically.

The rate of new HIV infections in Portugal has fallen precipitously since 2001, the year its law took effect, declining from 1,016 cases to only 56 in 2012. Overdose deaths decreased from 80 the year that decriminalization was enacted to only 16 in 2012. In the US, by comparison, more than 14,000 people died in 2014 from prescription opioid overdoses alone. Portugal’s current drug-induced death rate, three per million residents, is more than five times lower than the European Union’s average of 17.3, according to EU figures.

Source: Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Portugal’s officials estimate that by the late 1990s one percent of its  population, around 100,000 people, were heroin users, compared to around half that many today. So why did decriminalization result in such positive results?  It’s complicated, but it likely has to do with the country coming to regard drug use as less of a criminal problem and more of a public health issue – those who are repeatedly caught using drugs or identified as addicts can still be ordered into treatment or to check in regularly with their family doctor.

Why hardly anyone dies from a drug overdose in Portugal [via Washington Post] and Portugal’s Example: What Happened After It Decriminalized All Drugs, From Weed to Heroin [via Vice News]

Can You Tell Which Drugs Someone Is On By Looking At Their Eyes?

The short answer is – no.  At best, you can get some clues on whether they *might* be high on drugs of some kind, but it’s far from definitive and would simply be an indication to run some more tests.   For example, cocaine, marijuana, and amphetamines cause the pupils to dilate, while opiates such as heroin constrict the pupils.  Hit the jump for photos of drug users’ eyes while they were high on cocaine, marijuana, and ketamine, respectively.

Continue reading Can You Tell Which Drugs Someone Is On By Looking At Their Eyes?

Five Modern Countries Where the Police Don’t Carry Guns – And it Works for Them

An article in the Washington Post from earlier this year offers a good rundown of five countries – Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, and New Zealand, where the police do not normally carry guns.  In Britain, since 1991 they have had specialized armed response units for incidents that require one, but as of a few years ago armed officers only represented approximately four percent of the total police force.  Why this is appears to be largely cultural and historical, as even most British police officers do not want to carry guns in the course of duty.  This seems to be true across all of these countries.  Remarkably Iceland is the 15th most armed country in the world, with nearly a third of the population owning firearms, but the violent crime rate is still very low in the Nordic country of 300,000.  Are Icelanders simply more peaceful than Americans? According to sociologist Guðmundur Oddsson, an assistant professor of sociology at Northern Michigan University, as quoted in the Post, “Iceland’s low crime rates are rooted in the country’s small, homogeneous, egalitarian and tightly knit society.” Norway also has an extremely low murder rate.  Meanwhile, in New Zealand, “only a dozen or so” police officers nationwide carry firearms at any given time, and in Ireland, only a quarter of Irish police officers are even qualified to use firearms.

5 countries where most police officers do not carry firearms — and it works well [via The Washington Post] and Why British police don’t have guns [via BBC News]

Who was the Real Poirot?

Who-was-the-real-PoirotAn interesting article shows that the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s police detective sleuth Poirot may have been a relatively unknown Belgian cop named Jacques Hornais. Christie first introduced Poirot in her 1920 novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and went on to write 33 novels about his adventures. The renowned author never identified a specific person as the source of her inspiration, but an amateur researcher uncovered evidence Hornias could have been the real-life Poirot.
Real-life Poirot? Researchers reveal identity of policeman from Belgium who may have inspired Agatha Christie’s sleuth [via Daily Mail]

UK Police Chief Believes Crime Hasn’t Gone Down, But Just Moved Online

An interesting and frank admission was made by a police leader in the United Kingdom. Assistant Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is the national policing spokesman on surveillance, believes crime isn’t down, but instead had moved to the Internet, where it is difficult for law enforcement to detect or deter.

He said criminals were simply carrying out different offences that were not being combated by police forces. He also made a damning assessment of the police’s ability to tackle cyber-crime, such as internet card fraud and online scams.

Mr Boutcher said: ‘Everyone tells me crime is down and we are very good in the police at the moment.

‘I am convinced that crime isn’t down – it is just being done in a completely different way.’

The Hertfordshire officer added that the police force had been slow to formulate strategies to combat cyber-crime, with the College of Policing, the professional body for law enforcement, issuing guidelines only this year.

Official statistics show that overall crime has more than halved in the past 20 years – from 19million in 1995 to eight million offences in the year to September 2013. It is the lowest estimate since records began.

The assessment is interesting, as crime rates have gone down around the U.S. in the past decade as well. Could it simply be that the balance of criminal activity has moved to the Internet, where it is out of sight out of mind?

Police chief’s shock admission: Crime isn’t falling … it’s just moving to internet [via Daily Mail]

Are Some People Born Without Fingerprints?


A very small fraction of the population is born without fingerprints, due to an exceedingly rare genetic condition called adermatoglyphia. The disease is caused by a mutation in a single gene, which was found in 2011, but causes no health problems or issues aside from the lack of fingerprints. (This is different from the case of criminals who purposely try to alter or remove their fingerprints via chemical or surgical means). Dermatologist Peter Itin found the mutation after beginning research on the condition when in 2007 he as contacted by a Swiss woman who was having trouble entering the U.S. as at the time all non-residents entering the country had to be fingerprinted. Itin named the condition “immigration delay disease.”

The Story of America’s First Ransom Note


Today, Pennsylvania law considers kidnapping to be a felony, but in 1874, it was a misdemeanor. Until the kidnapping of two young brothers: four-year-old Charley Ross and his five-year-old older brother Christian by two men. Christian was set free the same day, but Charley was not. The boys’ father went to the police, who didn’t take the case seriously – until, that is, the first ransom note showed up.

Somebody had written the message—ridden with errors in spelling, capitalization and punctuation—in black ink and an unsteady hand. “You wil have to pay us before you git him from us, and pay us a big cent to,” the note read. “if you put the cops hunting for him you is only defeeting yu own end.”

The second came five days later, stating the ransom amount: “This is the lever that moved the rock that hides him from yu $20,000. Not one doler les—impossible—impossible—you cannot get him without it.” (The sum of $20,000 in 1874 was the equivalent of about $400,000 today.)

With this demand, the letter writers recorded the first ransom kidnapping in U.S. history. They told Christian Ross to correspond with them through the personal advertisements of the Philadelphia Public Ledger.

Unfortunately, Charley Ross never returned home. Supposedly more than 700,000 fliers were distributed and the stories of more than 600 children who resembled his son were investigated. Well into the twentieth century, men came forward claiming to be Charley Ross, but the Ross family did not believe them.

That might have been it, had it not been for a Pennsylvania librarian who this year discovered 22 letters in her family’s possession, which turned out to be the original ransom notes in the case, long since thought to have been lost. How did her family come to have them? You’ll have to check out the Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog to find out.