Foreign Affairs

by Reid Fitzsimons

The worldwide annual rate of motor vehicle related deaths is apparently 17.4 per 100,000. The highest rate is in Africa at 26.6, Honduras at 17.4, and the US at 10.6 per 100,000. In general, and the reasons are numerous, there is a higher rate in so-called third world countries than in the “first world.”

So what does this have to do with anything? I know Honduras very well, and can state unequivocally that it is common and typical for any number of people to hop in the back of pick-up trucks and go barreling down the pothole laden two-lane corridors of death which is their national highway system. I’ve done it myself enough times and it is probably one of the worst practices in regards to vehicular safety, but no one bats an eye, including the cops. It is, however, illegal in Honduras to drive while smoking, using a cell phone, and to not wear a seatbelt. For those who know the New Testament this might bring to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

I am, of course, not privy to the legislative machinations of governments that are perpetual recipients of foreign aid but have a theory when it comes to laws that concentrate on a speck of dust but ignore the gaping eye wound. Somewhere in the comfort of the US or European Union there are politicians or non-profit progressive special interest groups who can’t imagine the entire world doesn’t share their concerns and values, anti-smoking activists for example (what enlightened person doesn’t want to have a group for whom they can show contempt?). While somewhere there is perhaps a legitimate goal of improving health, their focus becomes the means, not the result, and even the most oblique attack on their target is justified. Hence, a well-funded organization can perhaps influence the pertinent foreign policy people and say, “It would be a righteous thing if we could demand other countries pass anti-smoking laws.” Attach a little bit of foreign aid, ostensibly to help enact the law and, Que Bueno, the money goes into some corrupt politicians pocket and there is an essentially meaningless new law just waiting to be broken.

...continue reading


by Barry King, 28 November 2015

After the recent terror attacks in France, the instinctive response of people of faith all over the world was to pray for Paris, and to encourage others to do so. For others, who consider religious faith problematic, the response was different: “Don’t pray for Paris”. The subtext to those opinions was clearly: religion is part of the problem, so it can’t be part of the solution.

The first of those responses (prayer) has deep historical roots. Thoughtful people will wonder about the second: is it a new idea, or has it been tried before? If it has been tried before, what were the results of the earlier trials? Hearing news of the Paris attacks, many of us remembered John Lennon, who wrote 40 years ago: “Imagine…no hell below us, above us only sky.” John identified the objective of that dream as “..all the people living life in peace.” Clearly, if John were still among us, he would have been among those saying, “Don’t Pray for Paris”.

...continue reading

1 Comment

by Barry King

This is a waypoint on the path of the devolution of the USA towards becoming a police state. I heard some of this low-information hysteria first-hand on the car radio while driving through Indiana recently, in a snowstorm. Putting "religious freedom" inside scare quotes like that, in order to condemn it and suppress it, moves the USA away from the principles of the American revolution and toward those of the French. Diderot said "Let us strangle the last king with the guts of the last priest." He would have gladly joined the current campaign from the American left against Indiana's perfectly reasonable Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

...continue reading

1 Comment


by Barry King

The acronyms mean: Liberal White European Nonsense about the Institute Congolais pour le Conservation de la Nature.

Here I sit in Uganda, just back from a visit to the Virunga National Park in Congo. After reading this article in Foreign Affairs  I have figurative steam rising from my ears, like the volcanic smoke from Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. I'd like to offer my observations about it. Disclosure: I advise and assist ICCN with the operation and maintenance of their airplanes, so I may have a bias in favor of the work they are doing with those planes. I'll insert my own comments between quotes from the article, which is a critique of the recent Oscar-nominated film "Virunga", and implicitly, of ICCN.

...continue reading


by Barry King

President Obama called recent years of record federal spending, including billions of Keynesian "stimulus" using borrowed money, "mindless austerity" - as though if he had his way such spending would be even more prodigal. That's hard to imagine, but he can apparently imagine it. Americans are consuming all of their income, and then consuming more and spending more long after they should stop, They are able to continue that for now only by borrowing from China, leaving it to their grandchildren to repay those loans to China with interest. That can't continue much longer, and the only reason it can happen at all is because 21st-century Chinese, unlike 21st-century Americans, produce more than they consume and save the difference, so that their net savings are available to be loaned to Americans - and invested in Africa.

If the President thinks current US federal spending can be described as "mindless austerity", that means he wants to spend even more, in support of American consumption of goods and services. And of course there may well be enough American voters who like that idea, to keep him and politicians like him in power for a while longer. In that milieu, China's surpassing the US as the world's largest and most powerful economy is not only inevitable: it will happen very quickly now, more quickly than almost anyone expects. Here in Africa, that process is more clearly visible - I have been meaning to write up a report of what I saw during a recent visit to Beira, Mozambique - but I suppose there in the USA it might remain out of sight and out of mind for a little while longer. ...continue reading

by Barry King

On June 4, 2009, only a few months into his presidency, US President Obama gave a major speech about US relations with the Muslim world, at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Reuters reported that the President’s objective in the speech was to “repair ties that were severely damaged under his predecessor George W. Bush.” One sign of that damage was that at the end of Bush’s term, only 27% of Egyptians reported having a favorable view of the USA. Today in 2015, after the first six years of President Obama’s tenure, that approval rating in Egypt has dropped an additional 17 points, to the current abysmal 10% (according to Pew Research). That’s the real-world result, so far, of Obama’s pressing of his metaphorical “reset button”.

On January 1, 2015, only a few months into his presidency, Egyptian President Al-Sisi gave another speech in the same venue, at Al Azhar. ...continue reading

drone result edit

During the Bush administration, suspected terrorists were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. Some critics (including Obama) argued that it would be better to view terrorist acts as crimes needing prosecution and punishment rather than as acts of war needing retaliation. Now the Obama administration, eschewing American soldiers on the ground and imprisonment or interrogation without “due process”, is relying instead on blowing up the terrorists in drone attacks. There is a tactical difference, and a legal similarity, between the two approaches. The difference is that the live prisoners at least had the possibility of revealing important information, whereas the corpses at the drone attack site do not. The similarity is that the death penalties meted out to the drone attack targets and their friends also lack legal “due process” and trial in a civilian court with lawyers present. To me those were, and still are, interesting topics, but it seems that many who found them interesting during the Bush administration are not interested in thinking and talking about them now. Why is that? Forward progress in developing our morality and ethics seems to be stalled.

However, progress in science and technology continues. (Actually, it seems to me that that disparity is at least 500 years old now. During that period, progress in science has been real, whereas progress in ethics has been mostly imaginary, existing mostly in human imaginations as an artifact of human narcissism.) Because of aerospace science, the US President will soon be able to deploy a small fleet of Lockeed-Martin / Kaman “K-MAX” unmanned external-load helicopters “as-is”, carrying a squadron of weaponized Lockheed-Martin unmanned “SMSS” vehicles The K-MAXes will drop the SMSSes near the target, and they will carry out their attack against a terrorist wedding, or whatever. After the “battle”, the K-MAXes will be able to go in to retrieve the surviving SMSSes and airlift them back to base, with no American humans being physically present for any of it. The unrecovered vehicles will be taken by the “enemy” to Iran for reverse-engineering, to discover and duplicate the latest tech secrets used in their design. However, one capability is still missing: that tactical plan does not yet include the option of capturing any suspects alive, imprisoning them, and interrogating them. Aerospace science "progress" means for military applications what it has meant for the last 100 years: increased ability to kill along with reduced risk of dying. But Augustine and Aquinas, cited by Obama during his Peace Prize acceptance speech, would not view that as "progress" at all. Hundreds of years ago, both of those guys viewed killing as far more problematic than dying.

Maybe all of that is OK from a “liberal” point of view, as long as no American soldiers are killed or injured, and none of the corpses are at any point subject to imprisonment or interrogation without due process. Maybe the meaning of the term “liberal” is changing over time, like everything else.

I suspect that living in Africa has enhanced my ability to imagine an attack like that from the point of view of the targets, and to extrapolate from that viewpoint what the long-term impact of it might be on America’s reputation in the world, and American success in the global war on terror. An obvious part of it will be the spread of the sentiment: those Americans who just send their demonic death machines to kill us, and are afraid to come out and fight us themselves, are the worst kind of vile cowards. But I’m just an ordinary guy, whose viewpoint does not matter much. For Samantha Power, current US Ambassador to the UN, it matters a lot, when she finds herself (for example) recommending to the President and to the UN that we keep soldiers out of Libya, but launch air attacks against one side in the Libyan civil war. From a distance I watch Samantha and try to see what she is seeing, but my perception of it remains unclear.



Imagine a cathedral crammed with 2000 unarmed civilians, all terrified that they are about to be killed by the screaming crowd outside, who are waving the machetes which they intend to use for the killing. Then imagine a thin line of 20 armed UN peacekeepers, equally terrified but well-equipped and well-commanded, dispersed around the entrances to the cathedral, carrying out their assignment to protect the people inside the cathedral from the ones outside. Understand this about the protesters outside: they believe that they are there protesting for social justice, and that they mean to correct the injustices and oppression accomplished by the people gathered inside the cathedral, and their ancestors. The worst crime of which those “oppressors” stand accused is “racism”, yet the protesters themselves have selected the targets of their current anger based on “race” as they understand it. It may sound absurd to American ears, but the moral and ethical arguments of those protesters is sufficiently compelling, that many of their country’s liberal and social-justice minded Catholic priests support them (although of course the priests are always careful to say about that support, that they would “never condone violence”). The US ambassador in that country is a pacifist-minded Quaker, but he also feels a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the “oppressed” protesters. The government of France also generally supports them. ...continue reading