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TOEFL ibt and the Common European Framework Reference for Languages

ETS_TOEFL_logo At last, the CEFR for TOEFL ibt scores is finally published. You can download the summary at ETS Europe’s website. With it, you can compare your TOEFL ibt score with the CEFR, a goal, that was long in the air and needed quite some time to be fully worked out. Never mind that the comparison levels for C2 for reading and A1 and A2 for speaking and writing don’t make much sense, the results for the levels between B1 and C1 are certainly useful for test takers.

Further reading: CEFR at the Council of Europe

New Tabacco Laws

Taxes for cigarette-sticks in Germany are going to be leveled with the rest of tobacco products. People will have to pay the full tax, no matter the size or form. That’s another incremental step into the right direction, but what we actually need are Irish anti-smoking laws. They’re strict and effective – and I have a lung to protect:

  1. Signs against smoking (which already exist in Germany but are often ignored) would have to be displayed in all affected areas
  2. If you break the law and smoke away you’re fined up to €3,000
  3. Environment Health Officers are hired to enforce the ban and conduct regular checks

The reasons why Germany should and can introduce this law is self-evident. If it works for them, it can work in Germany, too. The sooner our lawmakers learn from the Irish experience, the better. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody wants to smoke, let them – but give me the same freedom of choice to not to be exposed to it.

No Taxbonus for cigarette-sticks

Infestation

We’re back. There would be lot to write about (in short: it was great, Belgium is a great country), but one mishap on Tuesday kept me busy until today. After my first post from our host’s computer on Monday, I’ve been told that the computer has problems.

Several dozen viruses, beside Sobig, AntiSpyware Viruses, Trojans and as far as I could tell, keyloggers as well. Since I couldn’t rule out that my passwords for Blogger and several Emailaccounts were compromised, I spent the day with changing all of them. It was time for reneval anyway, but it hits you when you least expect it.

Korean Traces in Bruxelles

Fighting against a French style, by IME Korean and English keyboard enabled computer, copy&pasting the commas because I can’t find it and the “m” and the “@” symbol for email doesn’t work right – this is my first post from our hosts computer. We’ll spend the next three nights at Mrs Park’s house, who offers mainly Koreans, but also other people a place to stay in Bruxelles.

Our trip started out a little bit problematic, since we couldn’t buy a ticket for the regional express train to Cologne. Three ticket vending machines didn’t accept my money or my card, so we didn’t have a choice but to dodge the fair. The ride with the Thalys was great, for ten Euros per person I would even stand all the way, but we had comfortable seats and it went smooth all the way until … well until “Brussel-Zuid”. I blame the hot weather that I was looking out for “Bruxelles-Midi”, as it was written on our tickets, so when the train stopped at Brussel-Zuid, we didn’t get out. “Zuid” also sounds a little bit like “Sued” or “south” in German, but it was indeed Bruxelles-Midi. Just before the train was ready for departure to Paris, we jumped out.

Finding the hostel wasn’t too difficult, although nobody knew the street we were looking for. The place is nice, actually a private apartment with a guest room with four beds. Tonight we share the room with two guys from Swissm using a mixture of German, French and English. After checking in, we went for a walk through a park to the Basilica d’Elizabeth nearby. Walking towards it, we realized its sheer size – and even better, it had an illuminated red cross on top! Perhaps it was sponsored by a South Korean (churches over there always have that kind of a cross), on the backside we saw that one of the windows had a Korean map and the flag. We’ll check it out tomorrow again since it was already closed tonight.

I can’t wait for the Korean breakfast tomorrow morning…

A Letter To The Terrorists, From London

From the The London News Review

London rocked by terror attacks

Just one day after London has been chosen to host the 2012 Olympics, a terrorist attack on the Underground network with an explosion and three blasts on busses left between two and a dozen people dead. The time of the first blast was this morning – the timing reminiscent of the September 11th attacks. A few minutes ago, the German intelligence service BND confirmed that a terrorist attack is very likely – also a claim of responsibility by a group called Secret Organization — al-Qaeda in Europe surfaced.

Spiegel Online published an article with 22 pictures of the attack.

The attackers aimed at the public transportation service for several reasons:

  1. to hurt as many civilians as possible during rush hour
  2. spread fear among the population
  3. hurt a modern society there where it’s most vulnerable: its openness

BBC: London rocked by terror attacks

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’s 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 😉 ).

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 😉 ). 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 Düsseldorf’s citizens are foreigners, and nobody can deny that life is good here. In fact, Düsseldorf 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

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

On the Menu

spring rollsMy family doesn’t really know what my (south-korean) wife and me eat. My brother is married to a German, my mother is with an American, my father is married with a Croatian – diversity whereever you look, even on our dishes. My wife’s family in Korea is curious, too, so I’ll post food every now and then. Today we had spring rolls, whic are not very difficult to cook, but I need more practice with the rolling – I did the ugly roll in the back.

Europe Day

flag of the European UnionToday is Europe Day!

The ideas behind what is now the European Union were first put forward in Paris on 9 May 1950, against the background of the instability and the need to rebuild a shattered Europe. The then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman read to the international press a declaration calling on France, Germany and other European countries to pool together their coal and steel production.

What he proposed was the creation of a supranational European Institution, charged with the management of the coal and steel industry, the basis of all military power. The countries which he called upon had almost destroyed each other in a dreadful conflict, and Schuman’s proposal to remove coal and steel production from national controls would make sure such a war could never happen again.

Today’s ambition is completely different: to build a Europe which respects freedom and the identity of all of the people who live on this continent. But this ambition is only possible because of the foundations laid by Schuman’s declaration

That is why during the Milan Summit of EU leaders in 1985 it was decided that 9 May should be celebrated as “Europe Day”.

Benedict XVI.

Benedictus XV.Benedictus XV. (1914-1922)

“Habemus papam” is probably the most important sentence said this year. After a long day doing research in the library, falling almost unconscious onto the sofa and turning on the news, this was really a surprise. Alright, I wasn’t right with Tettamanzi and I thought the conclave might take longer because the participants have no pressure to hurry up, their lodging is comfortable like never before and the Sistine Chapel has a roof (one conclave was speeded up by exposing the conclave to the roughness of nature). The new pope’s name is Benedictus XVI. The last pope with this name was Giacomo della Chiesa (1914-1922), he failed repeatedly to conciliate the parties involved in World War I. Benedictus is the first word in the song of Zacharias at the birth of John the Baptist. Traditionally, the choice for the new name carries a message. I wonder why cardinal Josef Ratzinger chose that name.

One sidenote: “That a German has been elected as pope is a moment of pride, it is an honor,” said Angela Merkel, the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (source: Spiegel Online). Pride has never been a favorable or salutary emotion. Pride as the strong emotion it is can be hurt, be it by other people’s insults, or in extreme cases, by simple difference of opinion. Where I’d have to agree, Benedict XVI.’s heritage as German apparently wasn’t a disqualification for his eligibility.