Is education the key to peace and security?

The Deutsche Welle reports that Germany is having a tough time figuring out a security strategy in Afghanistan:

In a country where residents have little access to running water and only sporadic electricity, you might think the construction of schools would take a backseat to the development of infrastructure. Education, after all, seems a luxury when your house goes unheated.

But in Afghanistan, where just 28 percent of the 32 million residents are literate, those schools are the key to lasting peace.

“Well-educated people can be responsible for the wider reconstruction of their country,” said a representative of the Afghanischer Frauenverein (AFV), a German NGO that supports initiatives for women and children in Afghanistan.

Hard not to compare this strategy to America, where education and literacy are in decline.

Americans barely reach the international literacy average set by advanced democracies, according to a report issued by the Educational Testing Service after looking at the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). Unlike the math and science surveys, the IALS was given to a cross section of adults aged 16 to 65. Despite the high expenditures on education in the United States—and the large numbers of students enrolled in colleges and universities—the United States ranked 12th on the test.

The United States is living on its past. Among the oldest group in the study (those aged 56–65), U.S. prose skills rose to second place. For those attending school in the 1950s, SAT scores reached an all-time high.

As the years go by, the United States slips down the list. Americans educated in the sixties captured a Bronze Medal in literacy, those schooled in the seventies got 5th place in the race. But those schooled in the nineties ranked 14th.


All signs point to a deterioration in the quality of American schools. Europeans and Asians alike have rapidly expanded their educational systems over the last fifty years. In the United States stagnation if not decline has been apparent at least since the seventies. Even our high school graduation rates are lower today than they were a decade ago.

Schools funded and configured properly in Afghanistan, eh? If you look at California alone, Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for next year significantly reduces spending on students. The state was already $2,000 behind the national annual average and $5,000 less per student than New York; these cuts will remove another $750/yr per student in spending.

The Tolerance Edict of 1773

I often hear people making fun of Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” publicity stunt.

“President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific”

Today I was reminded that this certainly was not the first time a leader has made a great stroke of irony.

The self-proclaimed reformist of Russia, Catherine II, put forward an edict of “tolerance” that actually did a great deal to incite and build intolerance. DW World explains the situation back then:

Catherine’s reign was full of contradictions. The tolerance edict of June 17, 1773 expressly forbade all forms of religious persecution and serves as proof of her modern and liberal attitude. This law was of great benefit to the Old Believers, the branch of the Russian Orthodox Church which had been excommunicated following the Schism of 1666. In diametric contrast to this were the restrictions placed on the Jewish population. They were limited to designated areas of the western Czardom, which covered large parts of annexed Poland. From 1791 onwards, Jews there were ghettoized. Their social and religious activities could only be carried out in the designated zones.

The 1773 timing is important because the annexation of Poland by Russia began in 1772. Thus, her “tolerance” policies were apparently a means to push those who were not considered for tolerance into a less noticeable place.

You might say this is similar to removing signs of failure when reporting on a mission accomplished story. The space Catherine II was using for those she could not tolerate just so happened to be already full of forces motivated to fight and expand the influence of Catholicism. Twenty years later, or about 1791, those behind this Catholic movement had been subdued (despite assistance from France) and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned into foreign control zones (Russian as well as Austrian and Prussian).

The organization of ghettos and restrictions on social and religious freedom was thus the result of the Tolerance Edict for many Europeans. This set the stage for increased tension and ongoing intolerance.

The Whitehouse later tried to explain Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech really was in reference to the one ship he was standing on; it had accomplished its particular mission of hanging a large banner that said mission accomplished.

Perhaps if we could speak with Catherine II today she might argue something similar; that her idea of forbidding all forms of religious intolerance really meant only religions she approved of at the time, or even the few she thought tolerable, would be tolerated.

Dramatic rise in American poisoning deaths

I should try to be less US-centric, but did you know that the US government just declared by unanimous vote June 2008 national safety month (NSM)? On that topic, the National Safety Council has created a dedicated page to NSM with some news about real risks to Americans:

Accidental poisoning deaths have more than tripled in the United States over the past 20 years, making poisoning the nation’s second-leading cause of unintentional deaths, after motor-vehicle crashes.
Most affected by the dramatic rise in poisoning deaths are people born in the 1950s – that is, in the middle of the baby boom years. And while the largest numerical increase in poisoning deaths is among non-Hispanic white men between the ages of 20 and 64, the rate of poisoning from unintentional overdoses is increasing fastest among non-Hispanic white women in the same age range.
What’s more, most Americans – 81 percent – believe that children are at greatest risk for fatal poisoning, though data shows that less than one percent of poisoning deaths involve children under 6 years of age – about 30 deaths – and more than 96 percent involve adults 20 years and older – more than 20,200 deaths.

Wow. That is a huge number, especially compared to the number of deaths caused by terrorists.

If you are white and middle-aged, you might want to start installing cabinet safety locks now. After all, this is the week of Poisoning Prevention. But home safety is not enough. Did you read the story about the New Zealand cafe that served sodium hydroxide as wine?

She spat out the liquid when she experienced a burning sensation on her lips and mouth. A cafe worker offered to test the drink and suffered a similar reaction, the prosecutor said.

Managers at the cafe checked and found that a mulled wine container had been filled with dishwashing detergent.

Did the managers taste it too? “Waiter, this drink is causing me emotional harm. Could you please taste it? In fact, could you please have management taste a lot of it?” Don’t forget to label your poisons, especially if you keep them in the same type of bottle as those you serve to guests and customers.

We already missed Emergency Preparedness and Distracted Driving. Next week is Falls Prevention. Defying the laws of gravity?

The State of State Security Breach Notification Laws

The National Conference of State Legislatures has an excellent resource for anyone trying to keep track of state breach disclosure laws:

At least 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation requiring notification of security breaches involving personal information.

Arizona | Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 44-7501 (2007 S.B. 1042, Chapter 23)

Arkansas | Ark. Code § 4-110-101 et seq.

California | Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.82