September 30, 2009

7,000 Killed by Drivers on Mobile Phones

After the American Century

We hear about it each time a soldier is killed in Iraq, but more people die each year on American highways, the victims of drivers who are busy texting or using their mobile phones. Studies have found they drive no better than drunks, causing more than 200,000 accidents every year.

I have written before in this space about the danger of texting or using mobile phones while driving. Now it turns out that the US National Highway Safety Administration did studies of this problem when it was just beginning to be serious, back in 2002. Guess what. They estimated that drivers talking on mobile phones were responsible for 955 highway deaths in that single year, plus a large number of non-fatal accidents. This number can only have risen higher since then, as more people now use these mobile devices than in 2002.

It gets worse. The bureaucrats in Washington decided to suppress these findings. The public never heard about it. The toadies did not want to anger Congress. Am I being unfair when I ask this, but is it not the duty of the National Highway Safety Administration to keep the roads safe? Hide the fact that annually 955 people (more now almost certainly) are dying on the highways because we should not anger legislators? Please recall that the idea of democracy is to serve the public, not Congress. A death toll of more than 7,000? More than 1.5 million accidents, with many maimed and damaged for life? In a statistical sense, this is about double the casualty toll from the 9/11 attacks. But these deaths happen just a few at a time, about 2 or 3 people killed every day.

Should we blame this on George W. Bush? Did anyone on his team ask that this information be squashed? Only now, due to pressure from journalists using the Freedom of Information Act, do we know that slaughter on the highways was thought preferable to riling up Congress. For more on this shameful episode, click here. But please do not read about it while driving.

September 29, 2009

Iran and the Bomb

After the American Century

This week we all learned that Iran had been hiding a second nuclear development site. It was buried underground, and never shown to the inspectors whom the Iranians wanted to convince its intentions were purely the peaceful development of atomic power. It is exceedingly hard for anyone to believe that now.

Decades ago I visited Hiroshima, where I visited the museum devoted to the victims of the first atomic attack. One exhibit remains burned into my memory. It was a little girl's watch, and the hands had melted into the dial at precisely the time the bomb went off. She was on her way to school. Heat that powerful seared her flesh and boiled the blood in her arm. That little girl would have been about 75 today.

Atomic weapons have no place in this world, and should be done away with. Proliferation is not an acceptable option. Not only should Iran be convinced to give up their bomb, but the Israeli and Pakistani governments should do the same. Otherwise, the risk is that other Middle Eastern states will seek "parity" with Israel and Pakistan.

Both the Russians and the Americans have been scrapping their nuclear arsenals, bit by bit. With enough time and a bit of luck, the detailed engineering knowledge of how to make these terrible weapons could be forgotten, even if we cannot unlearn the physics that explains how nuclear fission can occur.

In the meantime, I think the Iranian people should all be sent a photograph of that melted wrist-watch, in hopes that they will think again on the direction they are headed.

September 17, 2009

Shame on the Republicans

After the American Century

President Jimmy Carter has bluntly said what many people were thinking: that Republicans, including many sitting on Capitol Hill, have been showing a great deal of disrespect for the office of the president, as well as for President Obama personally. This seems especially clear to those Americans, like myself, who live abroad in constitutional monarchies. It would be unthinkable and socially completely unacceptable for someone to scream at the Danish queen during a speech that she was lying. Anyone who did that would be universally condemned, by all parties.

When Americans chose to be a republic, after there unhappy relationship to the British kings, the founders knew that the president would have to play a double role, as chief executive and as head of state. Some presidents have done this more successfully than others, of course, and the United States was fortunate to begin with George Washington for eight years.

Preserving civility and good manners is probably not the strong point of Americans generally, but it is important to try to show respect for those with whom one disagrees, and it is vital that a party that loses an election, as the Republicans did, respect the will of the people and try to work constructively as legislators. History will not be kind to the Republicans currently in office, however. I feel fairly certain of this, being a historian. Taking the long view, they are not behaving wisely.

Instead, we see an increasing tendency to rabble rousing, false slogans, and denial. Shame on the Republicans.