Sunday, October 15, 2006


An Unexpected British Prophet

This was written 106 years ago!!!

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries. Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.

“A degraded sensualist deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

“Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities; thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

“No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arm of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.” How little has changed over 106 years.

This polemic can be found in the first edition of the two-volume The River War, published in London in 1899 by Longman and Green. It was written by a 25-year-old soldier/war correspondent who had returned from previous duty in Egypt, and had used influence to get assigned to Lord Kitchener’s army in the Sudan. He was present at the battle of Omdurman where Kitchener’s force of 25,000, outnumbered by two to one, soundly defeated the Muslim army that lost 10,000 killed and 13,000 wounded while Kitchener’s British force lost only 48 men with 382 wounded. This victory was accomplished with far superior weapons. The story of this battle was recounted in this book, as were the thoughts expressed above. (In the Sudan today we could use a Kitchener—instead we have a moribund United Nations.)

The 25-year old author, whose 106-year-old views on Islamic fundamentalism were so strikingly accurate and so amazingly prescient, was none other than Winston Churchill.

Speed Kills—People, and Your Wallet

Do you remember all the misleading information that was so pervasive in cigarette advertising, and how prevalent those ads were? Whatever happened to all those advertising executives that were involved in the creation of those schemes? Is it possible that they have discovered the one other product that has affected an even greater number of people with a similarly virulent addiction? You will recall that President Bush gave impetus to this conclusion when he stated unequivocally that we Americans are addicted to OIL. To be more precise, our addiction is really to gasoline.

This is nothing new, but what is really perverse is the inattention being paid to the concept of conservation, and equally frustrating is the actual encouragement of increased usage of gasoline by several of our less enlightened state governments.

It’s almost as if these former ad executives — more likely it’s the lobbyists at work — have induced politicians and their appointees to promote the increased sale of gasoline. It seems that several states have actually authorized increased speed limits on hundreds of miles of interstate highways and freeways. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia all have raised speed limits from 65 mph to 70 mph, and leave it to Texas, already at 75 mph, it has raised the limit to 80 mph. The faster we drive, the more money goes to the middle-east countries who hate us, and into the pockets of terrorists who try to kill us.

Speaking of killing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by auto insurers claims fatality rates were 17 % higher in states that raised speed limits from 1995 to 1999 than in states that didn’t.

With the help of several sources, (; [Federal Trade Commission];; and The Wall Street Journal), what follows are tips on how you can not only help conserve gas by increasing your car’s mileage, but also save, possibly more than a few bucks:
  1. Stay within the speed limits. The Department of Energy estimates that for every five miles an hour a person drives above 60 mph costs an extra 20 cents a gallon, for a fuel efficiency loss of 7% to 23%, depending on the type of car and gas.

  2. Avoid jackrabbit starts and stops, thereby improving in-town gas mileage up to five percent by driving “gently.”

  3. Drive steadily. Slowing down and speeding up wastes fuel. Using your cruise control when appropriate can save up to 14 percent with an average of 7 percent.

  4. Edmunds claims that aggressive vs. moderate driving will result in an average of 31 percent savings. (I’ll have to remember that one.)

  5. Air conditioning on, windows up vs. windows down AC off: Very little difference. Do what is most comfortable.

  6. While not all of the sources agree with this, The National Highway Safety Administration claims that for every pound of tire pressure below that which is recommended, you reduce mileage by 2 percent.

  7. The Federal Trade Commission states, “Unless your engine is knocking, buying higher octane gas is a waste of money.” Consumer Reports agrees by saying, “Think twice about using the more expensive gas even if your owner’s manual suggests “for optimum performance use premium.” All agree on this point.

  8. One source claims, “An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce fuel economy by up to two percent.”

  9. Keep your engine tuned, change oil on schedule, and check and replace oil filters for a 10 percent improvement.

  10. Avoid paying for so-called gas saving devices or additives. The FTC has tested hundreds of these items and has determined that “Even for the few gas saving products that have been found to work, the savings have been small.” None of the gas additives proved to be of any benefit.

  11. Drive smartly and safely.

Pass, (On) the Salt

Salt is such a common and ubiquitous product today, we forget that its history is virtually the history of mankind. The Salt Institute maintains that, “Salt was in general use long before history, as we know it, began to be recorded.” The economic, religious, and political importance of salt, beginning in ancient times, cannot be overemphasized. City-states and countries fought over supplies and supply routes. Salt was one of the major trade products throughout history, and local economies were often built accordingly.

Food has been flavored and preserved since ancient times with salt. Many of the first roads built were the results of early salt trade routes. At one time salt was so precious, it traded ounce for ounce with gold, and taxes were actually levied on salt. In China, coins made from salt were in use, and salt cakes were used as money in the Mediterranean regions.

The Salt Institute writes, “Salt has played a vital part in religious ritual in many cultures, symbolizing immutable, incorruptible purity. There are more than 30 references to salt in the Bible, and both the Bible and the Talmud contains insights into salt’s cultural significance in Jewish society.” Another source states, “The altar in the temple of Jerusalem was built to handle hundreds of animal sacrifices a day, and included the salting and dehydrating process of the carcasses producing ‘kosher’ hygienic cleansed meat to the inhabitants.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Your body needs some sodium to function properly. Sodium helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body; it helps transmit nerve impulses; and it influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles.” The Mayo site also informs that, “Your kidneys regulate the amount of sodium kept in your blood.” However, “If your kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to accumulate in your blood. Because sodium attracts and holds water, your blood volume increases. Increased blood volume in turn makes your heart work harder to move more blood through your blood vessels, increasing pressure in your arteries.”

The American Heart Association suggests that those with cardiovascular problems maintain either a 2,000 milligram or 1,000 milligram sodium diet. As a guide, one teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 milligrams. The current estimated daily salt intake of adult Americans is about 4,000 milligrams, although some believe it is much higher. This portends serious problems. The major one is that most people not only crave salt, foods that traditionally have been heavily salted seem less tasty, and are therefore shunned. Various organizations, including the National Academies Institute for Medicine as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources recommend that adults eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and as little as 1,500 milligrams a day if you are a middle aged or older adult, or someone with hypertension.

For those who say “I never add salt to my food, even in restaurants,” that’s little comfort. It’s estimated that restaurant food and packaged food accounts for nearly 80 percent of America’s sodium intake. If you eat out or take out frequently, you are probably significantly exceeding recommended sodium limits.

That this issue is heating up became apparent recently when the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued the Food and drug Administration (FDA) for failing to regulate sodium as a food additive. To add to that agency’s problems, at its annual meeting in late June, the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended that the FDA limit the amount of salt that food companies are allowed to add to product. The AMA, for the first time ever, asked the FDA to revoke the long-time status of salt as a substance that is generally recognized as safe.” Instead, as did the Center for Science, the AMA recommended that salt should be regulated as a food additive.

As to be expected, the Salt Institute, representing the $340 million salt industry, including Morton International, is lobbying the department of Health and Human Services to forgo salt regulation by the FDA. What is at stake? According to The New York Times, “In 2004, researchers at the National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute published a study in the American Journal of Public Health concluding that 150,000 lives could be saved annually if sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods were cut in half.”

What is the likelihood of the FDA taking on the food industry? Consider this: when the current administration finalized the 2003 budget for the FDA’s Center of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (the division where most food regulation takes place) it amounted to $47.6 million. In its infinite wisdom, the 2007 budget has been cut almost in half to just $25 million.

It has been obvious that this FDA has been willing to be guided by political, even religious considerations rather than empirical, scientific evidence. Think of the three-year delay to approve (with several limitations) the Plan B birth control pill. Federal agencies in general, in the last six years, have leaned more favorably toward business interests rather than towards the public’s welfare.

In essence, the FDA must weigh the political pressures and enormous lobbyist influence against the possibility of saving 150,000 lives. To most, the answer would be obvious. Based on recent FDA actions, who knows?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Are We Losing the War For Innovation? Part V

“If current trends continue, the proportion of workers with high school diplomas and college degrees will decrease and the personal income of Americans will decline over the next 15 years.” This is the opening paragraph of an important policy alert issued about one month ago by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent, non-partisan organization.

The report, published annually continues, “The projected decline in educational levels coincides with the growth of a knowledge based economy that requires most workers to have higher levels of education. At the same time the expansion of a global economy allows industry increased flexibility in hiring workers overseas [outsourcing]. As other developed nations continue to improve the education of their workforces, the United States and its workers will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

In other words, foreign countries will be eating our lunch. If you have read all or some of the four preceding articles on this subject, the answer to the question in the headline above, “Are We Losing the War For Innovation?” is glaringly obvious—you’re darn right we are!

In addition to our existing educational system deficiencies, our student underperformance, and lack of competitive college graduation trends, especially in science and engineering, there is another more insidious and unfortunately, a much less openly discussed crisis in the making. It is reflected in the following statistics cited in the National Center’s report: “…the gap among racial/ethnic groups in levels of education completed are widening.” Of the working-age population , the most progress in attaining a bachelor degree or higher was made by Asian Americans, progressing from a level of 36% in 1980 to 46% in 2000. Whites advanced from 20% to 30% in that same period, while African-Americans improved from 9% to 16%. Hispanic-Latinos moved from only 8% to 11%.

Why is this so problematic? The report explains, “The U.S. workforce (generally ages 25 to 64) is in the midst of a sweeping demographic transformation. From 1980 to 2020, the white working-age population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%. During the same period, the minority portion of the workforce is projected to double (from 18% to 37%), with the Hispanic/Latino portion alone projected to almost triple (from 6 to 17%).”

The report continues, “The greatest increase in population growth in the U.S. workforce is occurring among those racial/ethnic groups with the lowest level of education, while the group reaching retirement age is predominantly white with higher levels of education. In 2000, whites ages 25 to 64 were twice as likely as African-Americans to have a bachelor's degree, and almost three times as likely as Hispanics/Latinos.”

While some might consider raising the “race/ethnic card” insensitive at best, discriminatory at worst, these are facts that cannot be disputed. In fact, a firestorm of criticism arose recently when the former three-time governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, claimed that cultural differences amongst ethnic groups were responsible for many of the problems experienced by minorities. So, let’s play a little game to determine whether or not you agree with Lamm’s theory, thereby determining if you deserve the wrath of his critics, or their concurrence.

In a new book titled Two Wands, One Nation: An Essay on Race and Community in America, Lamm writes, “Let me offer you, metaphorically two magic wands that have sweeping power to change society. With one wand you could wipe out racism and discrimination from the hearts and minds of white America. The other wand you could wave across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition.” Lamm continues, “I suggest that the best wand for society and for those who live in the ghettos and barrios would be the second wand.”

Lamm then elaborates, “Racism and discrimination clearly still exist, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the problem of minority underperformance is much broader and more nuanced than can be explained by the impact of racism alone.” In an interview Lamm is also quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that Asians are naturally smart and Hispanics are naturally dumb. I believe that different cultures give different signals and some cultures are giving out stronger performance signals than others.”

Don’t make your decision yet, since the debate escalated when the current Colorado governor, Bill Owens (who unlike Lamm is a Republican), entered into the fray by agreeing with Lamm. He defended him by saying he wished his children had more of the Asian and Jewish culture—“There are many days when I wish they’d get up early in the morning; I wish they would work harder, and in many respects that’s what we see out of many of the Asian and the Jewish culture.”

Note that the key word used by both governors is “culture.” If you believe culture is a major determinant in a child’s educational performance and ultimate success in life, apparently critics might term you a racist and a bigot. In our little game, if you do fall into the pro-culture category, do you believe you deserve those words of condemnation?

If critics really want something to condemn, how about this statement? “What we have here are symptoms of a depressing cultural illness, frequently fatal, that has spread unchecked through much of black America. The people who are laid low by this illness don’t snitch on criminals, seldom marry, frequently abandon their children, refer to themselves in the vilest terms (niggers, whores, etc), spend extraordinary amounts of time kicking back in correctional institutions, and generally wallow in the deepest depths of degradation their irresponsible selves can find.”

You might think that critics would jump all over the author of this screed, except for one significant factor — these are the views of Bob Herbert, columnist for TheNew York Times, who happens to be black.

Or how about this statement? “There are so many things that we know are indicators of a crisis within the [black] community. When you look at the high dropout rate, especially among our boys. Or the out-of-wedlock birth rate, which is really alarming. Or the high rate of incarceration.” Is this type of speech subject to being viewed as racist or intolerant? If so, the speaker, Juan Williams, an Emmy winning writer (21 years with The Washington Post), radio, TV correspondent, and author of a brand new book titled Enough, would be so denigrated, except for the fact that he too is black.

Williams is a great fan of Bill Cosby who has been preaching a similar sermon for several years. Williams elaborates further. “When you hear boys saying it’s a ‘rite of passage’ to go to jail, or the thing that is so controversial but has been going on for a while — kids telling other kids that if they’re trying to do well in school they’re trying to act better than me or ‘trying to act white’ — all of these are indications of a culture of failure [my underline]. These are things that undermine a child or an individual who is trying to do better for himself or herself. These are things that drag you down.”

Regarding Hispanics, Lionel Sosa is a staunch Republican and was the owner of the largest Hispanic advertising company in America. He recently wrote a book titled, The American Dream: How Latinos Can Achieve Success in Business and in Life. He identifies the main obstacle to Mexican-American upward mobility as “cultural”: specifically, “resignation of the poor to poverty, low priority of education, and mistrust of those outside the family — to be poor is to deserve heaven, to be rich is to deserve hell…it is good to suffer in this life because in the next life you will find eternal reward.” He then explains, “This leads to a fatalism where individual initiative achievement, self-reliance, ambition, aggressiveness — all these are useless in face of an attitude that says we must not challenge the will of God.”

If you still believe these types of statements and attitudes are the result of prejudice and intolerance, consider the source of the above information on Mr. Sosa and Hispanics — Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination (C.A.R.D.), an organization whose name denotes its purpose. In a web posting this past August, C.A.R.D., an organization that obviously abhors all vestiges of prejudice and discrimination made the following statement:

“How do we lovingly, yet honestly diagnose the large economic, education and success gap between black/Hispanic America and white/Asian America? The problem of crime, educational failure, drugs, gangs, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment that burden certain groups threaten our collective future. We need to think about these problems with a new sophistication; increasingly scholars are saying ‘culture matters’ [my emphasis].” The C.A.R.D. article then makes this rather surprising statement: “I’m impressed for instance, that the highest family incomes in America are earned by minorities that have suffered discrimination. Japanese-Americans, Jews, Chinese-Americans, and Korean-Americans all out-earn white Americans by substantial margins.”

Even more tellingly, C.A.R.D. then propounds the following, apparently no longer radical theory: “I suggest that these groups whose culture and values stress education, hard work, and success are those groups that succeed in America — regardless of discrimination. I further suggest that, even if discrimination was removed, other groups would still have massive problems until they developed the traits that lead to success. Asian and Jewish children do twice as much homework as black and Hispanic children, and get grades twice as good. These are not racial differences; they are differences in attitude, values, and work habits that are within our individual control.”

Well, hello Governors Lamm and Owens. Apparently your ideas relating to the importance of culture have been vindicated. Interestingly, this article from C.A.R.D. was written in August, several months after the Lamm book was published, and also after the controversy erupted relating to Owens' defense of Lamm’s writings. It would be ironic if Lamm’s critics attempted to censure or condemn the Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination for advocating the same ideals they (the critics) found so objectionable when emanating from the two governors. There is no indication they have done so.

Why is all this so important?Just as the key factors in real estate are “location, location, location,” it is becoming increasingly obvious the key factors in education are “culture, culture, culture.” If cultural factors are as critical as described above, social, government, education, and minority leaders should be working to inculcate the benefits of those cultural factors that lead to success, and to diminish those deadly factors that threaten so many youths currently. That will undoubtedly be a very difficult task. However unless we see some significant leadership toward that end, the specter of a transformed population, increasingly weighted by those with what many view as cultural deficiencies, will surely have a detrimental effect on this country’s future.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2050 the total U.S. population will number some 420 million with a bare majority of non-Hispanic whites at 50.1 percent; Hispanics at 25 percent; blacks at 15 percent, and Asians at 8 percent. At least some portion of the black and Hispanic 40 percent could be undereducated, as well as unprepared to function optimally in what is certain to be an even tougher competitive global environment than today.

This is summed up in an article posted on Business Week Online last November under the headline, “America the Uneducated,” that states: “…for the first time ever, America’s educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly…” It then refers to the National Center for Public Policy report mentioned above and continues, “The key reason: As baby boomers retire, they’ll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees.” Does this article by a national media organization imply that it too is prejudiced and racist?

In answer to the headline question, posed over the past five months, we are not only losing the war for innovation currently, but unless we quickly and firmly change cultural attitudes, we are certain to fall even further behind in tomorrow’s world. Unfortunately, at our current rate of educational progress (the more accurate word would be “regress”) the 21 st will certainly not be another American century.