Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Parents and teachers are complaining that the latest issue of a popular magazine for preteens amounts to little more than an early recruitment pitch for the Army. Cobblestone magazine, which is put out by Carus Publishing in Peterborough, is aimed at children ages 9-14 and is distributed nationwide to schools and libraries. Its latest issue features a cover photo of a soldier in Iraq clutching a machine gun and articles on what it's like to go through boot camp, a rundown of the Army's "awesome arsenal" and a detailed description of Army career opportunities.

Most controversial has been a set of classroom guides that accompany the magazine, which suggest teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter or veteran to speak to their classes and ask students whether they might want to join the Army someday. One of the teaching guides - written by Mary Lawson, a teacher in Saint Cloud., Fla. - suggests having students write essays pretending they are going to join the Army: "Have them decide which career they feel they would qualify for and write a paper to persuade a recruiter why that should be the career."

"Some of the teachers were like, 'Holy cow, look at this,'" said Francis Lunney, a sixth-grade English teacher in Hudson, Mass., who quickly called the publishing company to complain. He told The Boston Globe that the guides looked exactly like the official recruiting material distributed at high schools. The dozen or so similar complaints come at a time when the military, struggling to meet recruitment goals, has become more aggressive in trying to attract young people. But Cobblestone's editors insist the idea for the special issue was theirs alone, though they received permission to use Army photos.

Managing editor Lou Waryncia said the magazine did not intend to recruit for the Army but will consider future issues in light of the criticism, which has been greater than for any previous issue. Though previous issues have dealt with the Civil War and other military conflicts, the recent one is somewhat of a departure in that the Army was a focus by itself. "We planned to do this well over two years ago," he said. "It just happened to come out at a time when the country's feelings are in a certain place" about the war in Iraq.

Virginia Schumacher, a retired teacher and manager at the History Center in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote one of the classroom guides. She defended the magazine, saying joining the military is a career option for any child. "That doesn't suggest that they should or should not," she said. "In that magazine, I felt they gave a wonderful portrayal of jobs that are not what everyone thinks of when they think of the Army. It was not meant to offend anyone."

Cobblestone, which has a paid circulation of 30,000, is one of a family of award-winning children's magazines published by Carus. It was started by two teachers in 1979 to promote reading and history and grew into six magazines that cover American history, geography, world cultures, world history, science and space, general studies and reading.



It's another summer weekend, when millions of families pack up the minivan or SUV and hit the road. So this is also an apt moment to trumpet some good, and underreported, news: Driving on the highways is safer today than ever before. In 2005, according to new data from the National Highway Safety Administration, the rate of injuries per mile traveled was lower than at any time since the Interstate Highway System was built 50 years ago. The fatality rate was the second lowest ever, just a tick higher than in 2004.

As a public policy matter, this steady decline is a vindication of the repeal of the 55 miles per hour federal speed limit law in 1995. That 1974 federal speed limit was arguably the most disobeyed and despised law since Prohibition. "Double nickel," as it was often called, was first adopted to save gasoline during the Arab oil embargo, though later the justification became saving lives. But to Westerners with open spaces and low traffic density, the law became a symbol of the heavy hand of the federal nanny state. To top it off, Congress would deny states their own federal highway construction dollars if they failed to comply.

In repealing the law, the newly minted Republican majority in Congress declared that states were free to impose their own limits. Many states immediately took up this nod to federalism by raising their limits to 70 or 75 mph. Texas just raised its speed limit again on rural highways to 80.

This may seem non-controversial now, but at the time the debate was shrill and filled with predictions of doom. Ralph Nader claimed that "history will never forgive Congress for this assault on the sanctity of human life." Judith Stone, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, predicted to Katie Couric on NBC's "Today Show" that there would be "6,400 added highway fatalities a year and millions of more injuries." Federico Pena, the Clinton Administration's Secretary of Transportation, declared: "Allowing speed limits to rise above 55 simply means that more Americans will die and be injured on our highways."

We now have 10 years of evidence proving that the only "assault" was on the sanctity of the truth. The nearby table shows that the death, injury and crash rates have fallen sharply since 1995. Per mile traveled, there were about 5,000 fewer deaths and almost one million fewer injuries in 2005 than in the mid-1990s. This is all the more remarkable given that a dozen years ago Americans lacked today's distraction of driving while also talking on their cell phones.

Of the 31 states that have raised their speed limits to more than 70 mph, 29 saw a decline in the death and injury rate and only two--the Dakotas--have seen fatalities increase. Two studies, by the National Motorists Association and by the Cato Institute, have compared crash data in states that raised their speed limits with those that didn't and found no increase in deaths in the higher speed states.

Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, says that by the early 1990s "compliance with the 55 mph law was only about 5%--in other words, about 95% of drivers were exceeding the speed limit." Now motorists can coast at these faster speeds without being on the constant lookout for radar guns, speed traps and state troopers. Americans have also arrived at their destinations sooner, worth an estimated $30 billion a year in time saved, according to the Cato study.

The tragedy is that 43,000 Americans still die on the roads every year, or about 15 times the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. Car accidents remain a leading cause of death among teenagers in particular. The Interstate Highway System is nonetheless one of the greatest public works programs in American history, and the two-thirds decline in road deaths per mile traveled since the mid-1950s has been a spectacular achievement. Tough drunk driving laws, better road technology, and such improving auto safety features as power steering and brakes are all proven life savers.

We are often told, by nanny-state advocates, that such public goods as safety require a loss of liberty. In the case of speed limits and traffic deaths, that just isn't so.



A tiny coastal community is no longer receiving post after Royal Mail judged as too dangerous a footpath that postmen have walked along to reach it since Victorian times. For more than 100 years a postman has walked the 1r mile track to a cluster of crofts on the beautiful Ardmore peninsula on the northwest tip of Scotland. But Royal Mail said yesterday that it had cancelled the service after a postman slipped and fell on a grassy slope, leading it to view the route as an "unreasonable" risk to the health and safety of its workers.

Since late Victorian times, postmen have made their way, apparently without mishap, along the path above Loch a'Chadh-Fi, just south of Rhiconich, on the Ardmore peninsula in Sutherland, one of the most isolated corners of Britain. The journey, which takes about 30 minutes each way, includes heather-clad hills, lush woodland and a section of waterfall, and is safely navigated most days by a local mother and her two young children, aged 5 and 3.

But a spokeswoman for Royal Mail said that the path was "fundamentally dangerous", while because there was no mobile telephone reception for much of the route it meant that "if an accident happened, the postman or woman concerned may not be discovered for many hours". She added: "This route . . . would not only put the health, but the lives, of Royal Mail staff at risk. It is unreasonable to expect Royal Mail staff to take such risks."

Local residents on the peninsula, led by John Ridgway, a former paratrooper who was part of the first two-man team to row the North Atlantic 40 years ago and founded an adventure school in Ardmore, have vowed to take their case all the way to Europe after losing an appeal to Postcomm, the independent regulator. Mr Ridgway, who has lived in the area for 42 years, said: "What is being done now is for purely financial reasons. If the Royal Mail gets away with it at Ardmore, where will it be next?" He added: "I am 68. If I get a hospital appointment and it doesn't reach me through the post, I go to the back of a six-month queue. Well, blow that." He dismissed Royal Mail's concerns as "wishy-washy, ineffectual, ridiculous, paper-shuffling nonsense", and claimed that there had been no serious injury to the relief postman who slipped and fell on March 15 last year.

He said: "We have asked Royal Mail for proof of these injuries. He turned up at our house under a minute after falling over, chatted to my daughter for a while and then walked back. Within two days he was out with the mountain rescue." A spokeswoman for Royal Mail said: "As far as I'm aware, the injured postman was concussed after falling on a 45-degree slope, but I can't get that confirmed, I'm afraid."

Postcomm said that, given the "unacceptable risks associated with delivering to the Ardmore residents' homes, to a box at the bottom of the waterfall, or to any point on the path beyond the part which is prone to becoming icy", it agreed with the decision to make the addresses "a long-term exception from the daily delivery obligation". Residents are now having their mail delivered to a car park on the road near the start of the track, and have to walk to collect it themselves.

John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said that he believed the postman who fell had been denied the "high-quality mountain boots" issued to those normally delivering to the area. A mountaineering adviser asked to assess the path concluded: "This is a well-maintained footpath. It would be classified as an `easy walk' on a national footpath grading system."

Mr Thurso said that the decision to cancel the service was proof that the postal service was under threat in rural communities. He said: "Health and safety obliges employers to take reasonable steps to ascertain risk and then minimise the risk. It does not require the removal of risk. Is it more dangerous for a postman to walk along a path than a scaffolder to erect scaffolding?"


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