Monthly Archive for June, 2005

Post a Secret

A very innovative use of weblogs: People send postcards with their secrets, the blog maintainer scans and puts them online – some of the secrets are quite sad, actually, the page is certainly worth a look.

PostSecret

Bionic Man Moves Artificial Arm With Brain

Science follows fiction. It’s not exactly the Six Million Dollar Man, but it’s getting there:

The world’s first bionic man, Jesse Sullivan, 54, accidentally touched live wires while working as a utility lineman in Tennessee. He suffered severe burns, causing him to lose his arms.
[…]
When Sullivan’s brain tells his arm to do something, it’s done in seconds and he has feeling in the bionic arm.
[…]
By the time it’s perfected, the cost of manufacturing the bionic arm is expected to be about $6 million, according to the report.

The hospital’s website has several videos about the procedure and the results. Give it a few years and people might feel and look natural.

Bionic Man Moves Artificial Arm With Brain

Europe's Crime Rate and Capital Punishment Part II

death chamberThe more I think about the first part of my response, the more I’m convinced there’s basically no need for a second part. Although the initial question was whether the abolishment of capital punishment lead to higher crime rates in Europe, I refuted Curzon’s claim that there’s a correlation between the death penalty and homicides: Deterrence is not a factor. So far, so good – but if the death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent, in what other way does it affect the crime rate? Since this was the foundation of Curzon’s theory, the rest automatically collapses back upon itself. There’s no proof capital punishment has any effect on crime rates at all, homicide rates or others.

Anyway, let’s take another look at the numbers at hand. A lower crime number in the U.S. is compared to higher crime rates in France, England and Wales between 1995 and 2001. The origin of those numbers is not completely clear. Although most of the links Curzon presented can be found in the top five of perspicuous (?) Google searches (like “crime rate europe homicide”), the mere description another source for his comparison between the U.S. and European countries doesn’t help much here. Looking further for the source of the mentioned crime numbers (“4161 6941 9927”) reveals that several weblogs beside Dailypundit copied it one from the other, always citing an Interpol source that’s not available (or not available any more). In dubio pro reo, let’s suppose the numbers are from Interpol and are correct (there are other official sources, that still leaves us with the question what’s the connection to the topic at hand? The numbers for the United States are lower than for European countries that abolished the death penalty, but it’s not about homicides, but a general crime rate which can’t be proven to be influenced only by the (existence or abolition of the) death penalty. I don’t want to invoke the obligatory apples and oranges argument, but let’s rather stick to the homicide rate.

In England, the the House of Commons concluded that capital punishment must now be seen to be inhuman and degrading and abolished capital punishment in 1973. Note that the last time an execution took place in Britain was 1964 – details here. Here’s the UK Crime Reduction website Curzon took a look at but unfortunately didn’t find the homicide rate chart. Although there is a upwards trend, it is decreasing since 2002/2003. The homicide rate in England and Wales in 2000 was at 1.5 per 100,000 (USA: 5.9): This is not about trends, just a synchronous comparison. Homicide rate London – Washington B.C. between 1998 and 2000: 528 and 733 (which translates to a homicide rate of 2.38 per 100,000 in London and 45,79 in Washington!). Between 1996 and 2000, the homicide rate fell about 1% in all Europe (+25% in England, -10% in France). Russia, as another example saw a drop of 2% in the same time period. They still have capital punishment, although they’re not using it.

France abolished capital punishment in 1981, the last execution taking place in 1977, there’s lots of information about homicides and the overall crime rate for the time between 1997 and (May!) 2005, for an overview of trends, take a look at this. Let’s see how our Canadian neighbors are doing. They abolished capital punishment in 1976, the homicide rate dropped and decreased in the following two decades.

Canadian research on the deterrent effect of punishment has reached the same conclusion as the overwhelming majority of US studies: the death penalty has no special value as a deterrent when compared to other punishments. In fact, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has stated: “It is futile to base an argument for reinstatement on grounds of deterrence”.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications published a long term statistic about the crime rate in Japan here and a bilingual document from 2005 titled ?????????????????????? (penal code crime cases known to the police, cases cleared up and arrestees by type of crime (1980 to 2002) ) – the numbers for homicide are decreasing, by the way. Charles Lane gives more insight about the death penalty in Japan.

To be fair, the crime rate in Europe is increasing. A report by the University of West England for example shows that there has been a general increase in crime over the last 25 years (1995). It also mentiones reasons why crime has increased – but don’t be surprised if you don’t find abolition of capital punishment in the list.

Europe's Crime Rate and Capital Punishment Part I

On some mornings you know what you’re going to do over the day, on some morning you wake up and see what the day keeps ready for you. Then there are mornings like this one when you think you know what’s going to happen, but then you read your name on Cominganarchy – surprise, surprise. Curzon wrote a brief outline of the evidence that the death penalty reduces crime. The post was triggered by a remark from my side that referred to a post about the Death Penalty in Japan on June 2nd.

The question is, does the death penalty have an effect as a deterrence and did the abolishment increase the crime rate in Europe? In his post, Curzon tries to back up his earlier statement with facts. Let’s take a look at those numbers.

Curzon draws a comparison between the homicide rates in the U.S. and Europe – since the definition of homicide is almost identical in most countries, I fully agree that comparisons of homicide rates are valid in this respect. He also posts numbers of a homicide rate cut in half in the last 20 years in the U.S. What happened, that it dropped from the 1980s to 2000? Was it really the death penalty, as Curzon exclaims (Wow, homicides cut in half! That鈥檚 quite an accomplishment.)? I agree, it is an accomplishment, but who or what do you have to thank for? Curzon speaks of a correlation, but he completely fails to show a connection between capital punishment and the changing homicide rate. He also makes the mistake to focus too much on one rather short period of time. If we take a few steps back and look at the big picture, you will find two peaks in the 20th century where homicide rates in the U.S. peaked. The first one was in the early 30s (keyword prohibition) with a homicide rate of 9,7 per 100,000 citizens and the second one was during the 80s (keyword war against drugs), as mentioned by Curzon, with a twice reocurring homicide rate of about 10 per 100,000 citizens until the 1990s. Following his argumentation, we would have to presuppose a rare use of the death penalty in 1930 and 1980.

The number of people on the death row increased steadily since the early 70s (which only means that the offenders were already isolated from society), but did the increase prevent the peak of homicide rates in the 80s? No, it didn’t. How many potential murderers showed up at their friendly neighborhood police station and stated that the death penalty deterred them from killing someone? If there ever was one, I’d honestly be surprised. But then, how do you know the death penalty deterred anyone? I’m using factsheets of the U.S. Department of Justice, the same source Curzon quoted and used.

In the 1930s, the number of executions hit an all-time high and decreased until the 60s, just as the homicide rate decreased. In Curzon-country, the number of homicides should have sky-rocketed, but they didn’t, in the contrary, it was cut in half. Does that mean a laisse-faire, dangerously liberal, left-wingish dilatoriness in regard to capital punishment surprisingly had the effect of people behaving better and killing each other less often? Of course not. Also in the early 1930s, the number of homicides peaked, where’s the correlation with the death penalty now? There is none, just as there is no deterrence. It’s a myth – far not as easy to correlate as a singular, decisive factor for decreasing crime rates as many, many supporters of the death penalty wish it to be.

During the background research for this response, I noted that supporters of the death penalty mention that during highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over, so that people react to it – Jon Manning, Curzon and alike fail to see that offenders don’t think logically. Murders are not logical per se, no murderer plans to be caught or wants to be caught or recieve the death penalty as a consequence of his (or her) doing. If you take Japan as an example, Younghusband already described the system there as very low-profile, how can it act as a deterrence if it’s low-profile? This part of your theory, Curzon, has no foundation.

I’ll continue with my reponse on the actual comparison between the United States and Europe after I come back from work (I’m sorry to keep you waiting 馃槈 ).

Pew Global Attitudes

Pew Global Attitudes Survey published a snapshot of opinions around the world, Howard French reports concisely about an article by Brian Knowlton titled U.S. image abroad. Chirol over at Cominganarchy might be pleased (and possibly sad) to find his opinion in regard to Anti-Americanism to be widespread confirmed – although the U.S. image improved slightly, it is still in the red.

What I found interesting in regard to Germany that Germans don’t see themselves as popular as they really are.

They are much too self-deprecating. In fact, other Western European nations give Germany the highest global favorability ratings of any of the five leading nations (U.S., France, China, Japan and Germany) covered by the survey.

That reminded me of something Dr. Ruprecht Vondran said last year after a lecture on economic issues: Germans can’t and don’t define anymore who they are and don’t love they country any more. In Europe, they’re loosing their cultural and national contour. If you ask people about the British, French or Italians, they have a certain image in their mind. If you ask them about the Germans, it’s getting increasingly difficult. While I don’t see this much of a problem – define yourself as a European and you’ll be fine – I even see it as an advantage that pride is not a word(many) Germans connect with their country. I had a similar talk about the topic with Sir Francis in Japan some five years ago. Being proud of your country makes you vulnerable, since attaching emotions to such complex, amorph structures as countries leaves lots of opportunities to be criticized and in the course hurt. If you’re hurt, you’re open to revenge, and revenge and irrationality lead to arguments and possibly armed hostilities (sounds Yoda-ish, but I hope you get my point 馃槈 ). There’s nothing wrong with working hard to give something back to society, in the contrary.

Back to the survey: 80% of all Germans were certain that not using violence in the case of Iraq was right in 2003 and that opintion even increased since up to 87%. Between 2002 and 2005 Germany’s support decreased from 70% down to 50%, although I don’t think Germans sympathize less with Americans about what happened on 911, but there’s strong disagreement about implementation, targets, conduct…

Also, Canada was in spot one when the question was how western publics view the Americans – in the categories violent and rude, the relationship is deteriorating. Nevertheless, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I still see a difference between the U.S. government and its people. Of course, it got harder to differentiate between those two since George W. Bush’s re-election as all reasons why the U.S. government has been critized in the U.S. and abroad were already on the table before the election. It’s a democracy after all, so it’s not far off to say that the people have a reponsebility when it comes to their duly elected leaders. In the end, every people deserves the government they have, but I’m not so sure

Another bright spot in the survey:

In fact, even the French give Germany a higher favorability rating (89%) than they give their own country (74%). The Germans, however, return the favor, giving France a 78% favorability rating, higher than the 64% they give their own country.

If two countries that had serious …misunderstandings over centuries can get as close as they are now, I’d say that’s reason to be optimistic for all of Europe. It might be difficult at the moment, but there’s hope for the future. By speaking of which, one third in contrast to the rest of the country in Germany thinks immigration is a bad idea. I don’t want to get too far into demographics, xenophobia and national immigration policies, but that’s one of the big omissions our government has allowed itself. Being the son of immigrants myself, I have a slightly different angle on the issue than the afore mentioned two thirds. Those people are afraid to loose the way of life they’re used to, in case there are too many foreigners coming (the boat is full argument), but that is in my opinion rather a general problem than one connected to immigration. The German way of life changed drastically in the last 50, in the last 100 years, and the developement towards another drastic change is not stoppable. This country need skilled workers, people who don’t only cohabitate but bear children. Does future sociocultural, genetic or otherwise diversity scare you? Take a look at the mayor cities, almost 20% of D眉sseldorf’s citizens are foreigners, and nobody can deny that life is good here. In fact, D眉sseldorf is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany, just as one argument for the people who are afraid of decreasing economic strength. Diversity is not a threat, it is a neccessity – just as it is change. Call it progess.

The U.S. image abroad: Even China’s is better

Surveys on- and offline

June seems to be a good month for surveys. Take this one, if you’re a weblogger and have ten minutes to spare. Cameron Marlow, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab who is studying various aspects of social networks and media contagion needs the survey’s results as a part of his PhD thesis – it’s up until monday.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

From the results page, it looks like I started blogging before the bulk (2001-2004) and that I’m with my 28 years younger than the average blogger. For reasons why people blog, there were many who reponded they blog to increase reputation. Who blogs for reputation, people working in technology related fields? Politicians, perhaps?

When I went to the movies last night, two girls from the Institute of Sociology at Heinrich-Heine University asked me to take their survey. One of the questions asked how much I set value to the composition of the audience in my favorite cinema (does that vary at all?) or the supply of snacks. The focus of the survey was something else though, one tenth of the questions centered around Operas, whether I like them or not, how many times I went to the Opera in the last 12 months and why I don’t go. Since they don’t want to know why people go to the Opera, I got the impression the conductors of the survey assume that either moviegoers don’t like Operas or the Deutsche Oper am Rhein cooperates with the Institute of Sociology to find out why people stay away.

I-House people on the net

Unsuspectingly surfing the net again, I clicked my way from Coming Anarchy over to Japundit and then to Pixelscribbles, I suddenly read of Justin Klein’s descriptions of his amazing experiences at Ritsumeikan Universitycurrently a ??? (foreign student) at Rits! There’re also pictures of of Kyoto – ????! – and the new I-House – there are two now and I heard they’re building another one. There’re other I-House bloggers as well, take a look at dubious adventures, Bootleg YHM and Yamasama. I read Mutantfrog’s weblog before, but didn’t know he studied at Rits, too.

Justin Klein and Mutantfrog added to Blogroll.

Vandercook High School, Jackson, Michigan

That’s about as close as I can get to my old high school, I lived in Jackson for a half year back in 1995. Today, I looked around and found their website as well as my first driving instructor, Chuck Miller. I was in the last year of exchange students who were allowed to take the driving test in the US and drive for a year in Germany – that’s lots of driving experience for $12. The superintendent also looks familiar, but except them I didn’t find anybody else. I can remember that a Brasilian and a French student (Cedric?) went to the same school that year, I wonder what they’re doing now. I can remember one thing though – a girl I used to hang around with at school asked me whether we have TV sets at home (yes, and we have even color television sets), fridges and .. the last one I forgot, but it was funny, my (cassettes!) walkman – made in Japan – was thinner than the ones they used at that time. The overall knowledge about Europe was focused on America’s role in World War II, but when I think back about history education in my school in Germany, we had three years about WWII and the Holocaust and next to nothing about the time after 1945. Then again, German pupils have the advantage that American TV, music, movies and other aspects of culture regularily swap over to Europe, so usually they are informed about what’s going on on the other side of the pond.

For the curious of mind, Jackson is the birth place of the Republican Party in 1854, they held their first state convention there.

Google Maps – Vandercook High School, Jackson, Michigan

Alive and Kicking

We were at the doctor’s office again, no big news there – but last night, the baby moved in the womb in a very noticeable and agile way. Until now, the only life signs we got was some movement on the screen or the cardiotocography (simultaneous recording of heartbeat frequency and uterine contractions). Feeling the child making itself at home inside, turning from one side to the other is a totally new experience.

About mothers, children and weblogs (and politics): click me

Blogroll Additions

Jamie Talbot’s weblog added to blogroll.

Brussels!

We plan to enjoy one last travel between July 11th and 15th before the new entrant to our family arrives. Our first destination some five years ago was Paris, my wife already travelled to Vienna, Rome is too far away in the circumstances – and Zurich quite pricy, so we settled for Brussels: The capital of the European Union, bilingual (French and Dutch), with a mixed architecture of gothic, classicism, art nouveau, and lots of attractions. Manneken Pis, the Atomium, Grand Place, the town hall, the royal palace, Saint Michael and the Basilica are already on our list.

Tourist and travel information about Brussels in Belgium

Tameshiwari Session

Today my Dojo in M枚nchengladbach, where I practice Kyokushin Karate, organized a ???(Tameshiwari) session with barbecue afterwards. Every member of the school brought spruce or similar wood and food. Our Sensei, Rolf, asked a local butcher to prepare two bricks of ice on the scale of one meter in length and about twenty centimeters in diameter. What he got was eighty centimeters in length and thirty centimeters in diameter, but he brought it anyway – and broke the ice in two halves with a ?? (mawashi geri). I took videos of everybody’s Tameshiwari test with my faithful Fuji Finepix 4500 I acquired in Japan five years ago, but sometime inbetween the data storage card suddenly issued an error, so I can’t put the video online (yet), hopefully I can recover a few recordings. Until that, take a look at these tests.

Meet the Staff

I have to apologize, I’m a little bit slow with posting since I’m working fulltime on the new weblog which is going to be based on WordPress 1.5.1.2. The layout for the blog is going to change too, the themebrowser at alexking.org is a real time-saver.

Nevertheless… on thursday evening, we went to a seminar at Marien-Hospital in D眉sseldorf, our first choice when we started comparing local hospitals in regard to number of births, episiotomy and Caesarean rate, support by midwives etc. – also, since my mother works there and lives in an adjoining building we quickly reached a decision. The head of the maternity clinic, Professor Diemer and two staff members talked with about three dozen future parents about… well, about everything. We also had the chance to take a tour in the labor rooms, which were smaller than I expected. The adjacent room was currently used so we heard a women shouting extremely loud and penetrating – one of the people in the group remarked this reminded him of a music school with singing classes.

Fresh Fish

SaitoBuy where the Japanese buy… Saito behind D眉sseldorf main station is the best place for fresh fish – you can buy everything there, even raw fish for Sushi like Toro – and even fish that only exists at Saito – I couldn’t find it on Google. I don’t know the exact address, but you can take a look at this map.

P2P SIP

This could be the next big thing. P2P and standard technology. There’s a detailed analysis of the Skype network as well (quite technical). I hope Xten or some other company will create a client for it, I’m using Skype, but I principally don’t like proprietary software that much. Skype is so successful because the installation and usage is a piece of cake, a little bit of competition wouldn’t hurt.

P2P SIP