Thinking through Ebola at both medical and political levels

Ebola virusIn the ordinary course of things, I’m a rather high-strung, worrying type of person. When it comes to Ebola, however, I find myself more less stressed than I thought I would be. I think part of it is sheer denial. Intellectually, I can envision a pandemic, but emotionally I can’t process something that big. Part of my unusual calm is also due to the differences between the United States and West Africa. In terms of medicine and infrastructure, we at our worst are still better than West Africa at its best.

Calm or not, I still have opinions about what’s going on. First and foremost, for those conservatives who think they’re betraying the faith by calling for stronger government action, my advice would be that they should stop beating themselves up. Even libertarians, who are the people most hostile to government intervention, should acknowledge that one of government’s core functions is to protect people from epidemic illnesses.

Closing borders, monitoring the health of people entering the country, creating no-fly countries, and putting health protocols in place are all features of good government in time of crisis, not bad government. The government becomes bad only if the crisis goes away but the controls stay. (Although I wouldn’t mind continuing to keep our border sealed against illegal aliens, if it ever could be sealed in the first place.)

In other words, acting responsibly to stop a pandemic in its tracks isn’t Big Government overreach; it’s good government’s job.  Which leads me to the second thing I wanted to discuss….

We’re all used to it by now:  When there’s a good government job to do, Obama’s not doing it. The Obama government’s response to Ebola is just more of the same, except this time around the consequences aren’t a flabby economy, porous border, or disordered Middle East but are, instead, an American population that could die by the millions in a welter of blood.  It is unconscionable that the administration is allowing its reflexive anti-Americanism to guide its decisions regarding a potential pandemic.

Aside from the government missteps to date, which could be due simply to inefficiency, how do we know that the administration’s calculus doesn’t include doing what’s best for the American people?  We know because an administration spokesman, Dr. Tom Frieden of the CDC, said as much.  Speaking before Congress, he contended that protecting Americans would be bad for Africa’s “fledgling democracies.” He refused to say who told him to prioritize Africa’s fledging democracies against American’s health and well-being, but I doubt that our educated guesses would be wrong.

Obama tried to overcome the mess Frieden created with his own statement about flight bans and screen. What emerged from his mouth was a swirl of gibberish that seems to boil down to this: if we bar flights from West Africa, West African travelers will just hop other flights to get to our country and we won’t be able to figure out who they are. What Obama really means is that, if we disallow flights from West Africa, we’re going to have to screen all people with African passports more closely to make sure that they didn’t somehow circumvent the West African travel ban while carrying the virus.

Obama’s not afraid of the inconvenience banning flights and interviewing passengers will cause.  Little details such as inconvenience (for example, forcing millions of Americans to give up their health insurance and buy new health insurance) have never bothered him much.  What Obama really fears is that, because a flight ban means that airports can’t just sequester passengers from West African flights, they’re going to have to screen lots and lots of blacks, since there’s no way of knowing whether a black person getting off a foreign flight had contact with West Africa, a part of the world filled with black people. Talk about racist (as MSNBC already has)!

It doesn’t seem to occur to the usual squawking heads (let alone our President) that people of all races, colors, creeds, country of national origins, sexes, and sexual identities would prefer that Ebola stay outside of the US. In this regard, it’s worth remembering that, following 9/11, American blacks were all in favor of profiling Muslims in order to ensure everyone’s safety.

Post-flight screening at airports is, at best, a laborious, time- and labor-consuming job (and at worst, a minimal preventative for contagion).  What’s certain is that it cannot possibly be done as Obama envisions it with all the passengers from West African flights going through the process in every airport. However, it probably can be done at least somewhat better if we substantially decrease flights coming from West Africa, and if we require all passengers carrying African passports, no matter their original point of departure, to prove that they were anywhere but West Africa in the last month or, if they were in or near West Africa, to get screened.  (Giving airport screeners some basic geography lessons would probably help the process.)

That’s my two cents. Here are a few other issues:

Our public institutions, from WHO, to the CDC, to the NIH, have utterly failed. (WHO, to its credit, has admitted its failure, which theoretically enables it to correct its behavior.) Indeed, it turns out that Amber Vinson, the nurse who was carrying Ebola when she got on an airplane called the CDC repeatedly to ask if she should fly despite have an elevation and the CDC just as repeatedly gave her the go-ahead.

Our Western health institutions have been so busy with their studies about tobacco smoke, parrots, hookers, and gender identity (and God alone knows what else) that they’ve rendered themselves incapable of handling their primary responsibilities. The Wall Street Journal says we’re seeing the twilight of these institutions. James Longstreet expands on that, saying that the whole Ebola fiasco generally shows the limits of “liberal fascism” (which he calls “liberalism”) when times are tough. During the fat times, you can obsess about lesbian diets all you want, but you better keep some resources for the lean times.

Meanwhile, even as no Americans have died from Ebola, people are dying from Enterovirus D-68. That’s bad. What’s worse from a political perspective is the way these deaths track so perfectly the path taken by all of those illegal alien children that Obama first admitted into the United States and then, without bothering with silly things like health checks and quarantines, shipped into America’s heartland.  Careless?  Evil?  Cloward-Piven?  Who knows.  But Obama’s beginning to take on the aspect of the Grim Reaper when it comes to letting disease across America’s borders.

To the extent Obama pays lip service to limits on his power (“Little old me? Stop flights from Africa? That’s too hard, so just ignore my whole thing about banning flights to Israel”), George Mason University Law School Assistant Dean Richard Kelsey has an interesting statement about Obama’s schizophrenic approach to the limits of his executive power. Let me just add once again that protecting ones country from pandemic disease isn’t some Leftist dream of Big Government. It’s right there on the top of the list of things that even the most libertarian governments are expected to do.

Peggy Noonan sees the administration’s behavior as just more evidence of the great disdain Obama and his team of experts have for the American people.

And speaking of experts, Ace has nothing but disdain for proto-government media outlets such as NPR coming along with half-baked understandings of cavalier “expert” explanations about things that are very, very important — and Ace carefully explains those important things. It’s an epic, informative rant, and well worth your time.

Stephen Green isn’t getting all twisted up about Ebola. In addition to his faith in American medicine on its worst day being better than West African on its best, not to mention the fact that Ebola’s own virulence is its worst enemy, Green also points out that the real worry is the way in which political calculations and political fear constantly overwhelm common sense.

Oh, and one more thing about America: We don’t have West Africa’s Muslim-based burial rituals, which involve whole families cleaning a corpse, both inside and out.

While I’m on the subject of Obama’s deadly racial calculations, even Key & Peele, who like Obama, are beginning to notice something about him:

To fight Ebola, we need a Florence Nightingale — although the Marines are good too

Ebola virusTonight, we attended a talk with Paul Farmer, Dan Kelly, Raj Panjabi, and a fourth fellow whose name I can’t remember.  The topic was Ebola.  All four speakers had front-line experience, having spent a great deal of time recently in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.  All of them are affiliated with non-profit organizations that have as their sole purpose bringing long-term and emergency healthcare solutions to third world countries.  They are all admirable men and masters of their material.

That’s why it was disappointing that the evening was so horribly dull.  Rather than the four of them presenting a coherent analysis covering both Africa and America, they engaged in a repetitive, jargon-filled talk that kept reiterating the key points.  The key points were interesting, and probably could have been covered in about fifteen  minutes.  I wasn’t able to take notes, but here’s what I got:

1.  Liberia and Sierra Leone have both suffered tremendously from civil wars that utterly destroyed their infrastructure and left them with virtually no health care.  I believe it was Liberia that ended up with around 51 doctors for the entire nation.  The American equivalent would have been 8 doctors for all of San Francisco.

2.  When the latest Ebola outbreak began in a remote village with an infected two-year old child, there were no systems in place to stop the disease’s spread.

3.  Because there are no doctors, no buildings, and no supplies in these forsaken African countries, a few things happen:

a.  The mortality rate is 70% to 90%.

b.  People view hospitals and medical clinics as death traps, which they are.

c.  People therefore avoid hospitals and medical clinics, furthering the disease’s spread.

4.  To the extent there are any systems on the ground in Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, they are the NGOs represented at the talk, plus WHO, the CDC, a British government agency, and a few disparate other groups.  They are trying to coordinate, but are behind the curve.  The local governments are helpless.

5.  Money is starting to come in, but little of the money pledged actually makes it to the situation on the ground.

6.  If the situation does not approve, we can expect 500,000 to 1.4 million dead in Africa by the end of January 2015.

7.  If, however, the money rains down and the existing organizations are able to train health care workers, open clinics, and have medical supplies on hand to treat people, the number of dead may stop at around 70,000.

8.  Bringing the current Ebola crisis to heel in Africa, even under the best of circumstances may take 18 to 24 months.

9.  A military organization is best suited to imposing structure on these dysfunctional regions.  (When I heard this, I thought to myself “So that’s why Obama sent in the Marines.”)

10.  Taking a page out of the Borgia book for poisons that can be absorbed through the skin, Ebola can transmit through people’s skin.  It’s not enough to keep your hands away from your nose and mouth.  If someone’s infected blood, vomit, fecal matter, semen, spit, or sweat just touches you, you can become infected.  Even picking up a stained sheet can pass the infection.  Additionally, scientists do not know how long the virus will survive on a surface once it’s become dehydrated.  The current guess is that Ebola, unlike other viruses, can survive for quite a while away from its original host.

11.  The Ebola virus is from the same family as the Marburg virus, which found its way to Germany in the 1960s, killed a few people, and was then quickly contained.  That’s good news for Westerners and their medicine.

12.  If patients get Western medicine that treats the symptoms — drugs to reduce fever and to control vomiting and diarrhea, proper treatment if the body goes into shock, and blood transfusions — the mortality rate is “only” 25% — which is still high, but is significantly lower than the 70%-90% morality in Africa, where patients get little to no treatment.  (See point 3 regarding the disease-spreading negative feedback loop of the high mortality rate.)

13.  This is a genuine crisis.  If anything, the media is erring by downplaying what’s been happening in Africa, and governments are most certainly responding too slowly to a problem that must be fixed in Africa, rather than just being stopped here (as if that were possible).

In sum, Ebola is a really bad disease, made horribly worse by the complete post-civil war dysfunction and poverty in these three West African nations.  With enough money and man power, the disease can be brought to heel.  The only problem is getting the money and manpower in place.

Florence Nightingale and her sister Parthenope

Florence Nightingale and her sister Parthenope

Hearing that the problem is one of men and manpower, I immediately thought (as everyone must) of Florence Nightingale.  I’m sure all of you remember her story, but I’ll tell it again for my satisfaction.  Florence was born in 1820 to a very wealthy, very well-connected, very upper class British family.  She was expected to do the ordinary thing:  become a “finished” young lady, get married, and have the next generation of wealthy, well-connected, upper class British children.  Florence, however, wanted something different.  She wanted to be a nurse.

To appreciate just how shocking Florence’s career goal was, imagine your own sweet, young daughter looking up at you and saying “Mother and Father, I want to become a prostitute, and work in the worst slums, with a lot of filthy, disease-ridden people.  Oh, and I’m planning to numb myself against the horror of my chosen life with strong drink and opium.”  By saying that, your daughter would have described precisely what many nurses were like back in the middle of the 19th century, or at least what upper class people thought they were like.

The hospital in Scutari, circa 1856

The hospital in Scutari, circa 1856

Understandably, Florence’s parents said “No!” and kept saying “No” despite Florence’s certain belief that God himself had called her to the job of nursing.  By the time she was 24, Florence ignored her parents and began to study what she could about nursing.  She also traveled widely around Europe and the Mediterranean.  During her years of work, study, and travel, she met several important men whose wealth and connections would aid her in the coming years.

When Florence was 30, she visited and was much impressed by a Lutheran community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany, where the Pastor and several deaconesses dedicated themselves to caring for the sick and poor. Florence worked and studied at this community for several months, an experience she wrote about later.  It provided much of the basis for her believes about cleanliness and good nutrition for the sick.  (Her beliefs about cleanliness did not extend to germ theory, something that was of little interest to her.)

By 1853, Florence was offered a job as superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London. Between her pay from that job and the very comfortable allowance her father gave her, Florence did quite well doing the work she loved.

Florence Nightingale shortly after her return to England from Scutari

Florence Nightingale shortly before leaving for Scutari

All of the above was a prelude to Florence’s moment in history. In 1853, the Crimean War began, with Russia squaring off against an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. This was probably the last of the Christian religious wars, since Russia was ostensibly fighting for the rights of Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, which was under Ottoman control, while the French went to bat for the Catholic Christians. In reality, the fight was really about preventing Russia from gaining land from the dying Ottoman Empire. But I digress….

Initially, fighting centered on Sevastopol, on the Black Sea. The Russians had it, and everyone else wanted to make sure they lost it. Beyond that, I have little to say about the Crimean War. The war introduced the Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade, began the divvying up of the modern Middle East, created a variety of new states in the Caucasus region, forced Russia to engage in some political reform . . . oh, and it gave us the legend of the Lady with the Lamp.

You see, by 1854, horrific stories were coming back about British war wounded and casualties. They were packed into filthy, crowded hospitals, had their limbs hacked off, were given opium, and were basically abandoned to death unless they were strong enough to survive on their own. This humanitarian disaster called out to Florence.

A romanticized Victorian picture of Florence Nightingale and her lamp

A romanticized Victorian picture of Florence Nightingale and her lamp

Exactly 160 years ago this month, in October 1854, Florence brought 38 women (including 15 nuns and her own aunt) to Scutari (which is now known as Üsküdar, in Istanbul). Florence was a formidable administrator. She cleaned out the filthy wards, washed the men, and made sure they got food.  She demanded that her friends back home help her with money, supplies, and pressure on the British government.

Florence could do nothing about the fundamental filth lurking in the sewers (a problem she understood only much later, when she compiled her report about events in Scutari) or about the overcrowding.  Men therefore continued to die in appalling numbers during her first six months there, not just from their wounds, but from typhus, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.  Florence herself almost died from one of the infectious diseases.

Even though she was unable to reduce the death rate, Florence accomplished two things. First, as history records, she was able to make the men feel cared for. Yes, they were still dying in ever greater numbers during her first 6 months there,, but the Lady with the Lamp brought them tremendously important things: physical comfort and hope. Second, through the publicity Florence brought to bear on the medical barracks in Scutari, the British government finally took upon itself the task of cleaning the filthy, disease-ridden sewers, improving ventilation, and providing more space for the sick and wounded.

A prematurely aged Nightingale in 1858, showing the ravages of excessive work and illness.

A prematurely aged Nightingale in 1858, showing the ravages of excessive work and illness.

As the panel convened in San Francisco kept talking on and on and on about the key problem — organization and money — all I could think of was Florence Nightingale who, with her formidable organizational skills and vast network of wealthy and powerful friends, was able within a very short time to bring a mortality rate of over 40% down to 2%. She most certainly did not do it on her own, but she was a dynamic catalyst. It’s doubtful if, without her, anything would have been done to improve the lot of those poor British soldiers.

The Ebola crisis in Africa needs a Florence Nightingale:  a formidable, fiercely well-organized, extraordinarily well-connected person who can bridge the gap between what is — chaos — and what should be — a well-ordered system that provides needed care starting at the village level.  Listening to the doctors speak, I did not come away with the sense that such a person or entity will come along any time soon.  The affected geographic region is too vast, the infrastructure too shattered, and the population too difficult to control.

That last point — a vast, dispersed, frightened, and ignorant population — is why the fourth man, the one whose name I can’t remember, must have repeated five or six times that the military is best equipped to impose organization from above in a situation such as this one.  Our 3,000 Marines will be helpful, insofar as they are splendid organizers, but I suspect it will take more than 3,000 Marines to bring three impoverished, backwards, dysfunctional nations into line so as to control an incredibly hardy, opportunistic, and deadly virus.

Tonight’s talk ended with the panel insisting that we must bring medical justice to the third world through redistribution of medical care, a conclusion that had the San Francisco audience cheering.  Like all good Leftists, they hoped that this crisis wouldn’t go to waste insofar as it would rejigger the world’s medical system.  They are certainly right that we live in an interconnected world.  A sneeze in Africa can become a disease in America.

Where their utopian dream about medical equality broke down is exactly in the same place it breaks down when they speak of Ebola.  They see what is (a first world with good medicine versus a third world without) and they know what they want (equal medical care for all), but it was quite obvious they even they recognized the futility of somehow forcing the whole world to transfer its wealth to Africa and the Asian subcontinent.  Instead, they just kept talking about the money flowing from crisis management.

They made more sense when they acknowledged that improved care in third world countries has to come from within and cannot simply be imposed from above.  However, to the extent they made sense, they diminished somewhat my good will when they seemed incapable of acknowledging that it’s not just a money problem in Africa, but a more profound structural one.  Both Sierra Leone and Liberia were fairly functional African nations until they fell prey to civil war, something no first world money could help.  The doctors also failed to understand that it wasn’t activists who really brought about treatments for AIDS; it was First World fear of AIDS that spurred the research and discovery that led to breakthroughs.  Simply transferring money from here to there will not cure systemic failures, nor will it inspire new medicines and treatments.


Mandela: communist antisemite

I’m still honest enough to give Nelson Mandela major kudos for electing not to turn South Africa into a racially-charged bloodbath when he became president.  He could easily have chosen another tactic, and it speaks well of him that, for whatever reasons, he elected to go the way of peace rather than the way of war.  But….

While I knew that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was an anti-Semite who attacked Israel, I did not realize that Mandela too, like all good Communists, was the worst kind of anti-Semite.  I find that unforgivable.  That is, I can admire and applaud the good Mandela did, but that doesn’t give him a pass on the evil fomented.  A man who embraces Arafat is a bad man, plain and simple.

Oh, and speaking of embracing Arafat:

Clintons and Arafat

Although, after all these years, one could ask, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”  Well, it makes a big difference, but that’s for another post.

Nelson Mandela, RIP


I didn’t like Nelson Mandela’s communism, but in all other ways he was a truly admirable, dignified, and iconic figure, who stared down a tyrannical system, mouldered for decades in prison and, through the strength of his personality, ensured that South Africa transitioned fairly peacefully from an apartheid nation to a nation that, at least in the law books, considered all citizens equal regardless of skin color.

My very limited understanding of events in South Africa today, though, is that the peace he achieved was very tenuous, and that white South Africans are feeling increasingly less secure.  Indeed, from what I’ve read, many are bracing themselves for race riots now that he’s gone.  In other words, it appears that his legacy will not outlast him.

Thoughts about torture and our self-referential president

I finally got around to watching Zero Dark Thirty, the film about the decade-long hunt for bin Laden.  Before it came out, conservatives were concerned because the White House gave the filmmakers unprecedented access to information about the hunt and about the actual hit on bin Laden.  This opened up the possibility that (a) the movie would betray America’s security secrets and (b) the movie would become a pro-Obama piece of political propaganda.

I don’t know whether the first fear was realized, but the second certainly wasn’t.  Those who claim that the movie supports using torture to obtain information are correct.  The movie opens with audio of phone calls from people trapped in the Twin Towers, and then shifts to a torture site somewhere vaguely Middle Eastern looking.  The torturer is a CIA man.  The person being tortured is a money man for al Qaeda.  Having heard that audio, you are not sympathetic to the al Qaeda guy.

Because of the CIA’s torture tactics, the man gives them useful names.  This happens repeatedly, with al Qaeda members getting hung in chains, hit, subject to water torture, deprived of sleep and human dignity, etc., and eventually revealing names and phone numbers.  The movie makes it clear that they are not being tortured for fun.  They are being tortured to get them to yield information about their, and other people’s, role in killing 3,000 Americans.

The film also makes the point that this information is necessary.  Every so often, after showing CIA interrogations aimed at drawing out a little more information about al Qaeda, the film breaks in with news reports about the Khobar Tower bombing, or the London bombing, or the Islamabad Marriott bombing.  The implication is that it’s vitally necessary for the CIA to crack open al Qaeda’s notoriously closed infrastructure.

The CIA operatives in the movie are dismayed when the situation in Washington changes, making “enhanced” interrogation techniques impossible.  As one says when his boss demands that he get information, if they ask someone in Gitmo, he’ll just get lawyered up and the lawyer will pass on the question to al Qaeda, which can then use it to their advantage.  The only “anti-torture” argument in the movie is a 30 second or so snippet of President Obama saying torture is “not who we are.”

That’s not who we are?  What a funny way to frame a rather more fundamental argument:  Are we, as a society, willing to have our public servants use torture for certain limited purposes?  That’s the question, and the movie answers with a definitive “yes.”  If using torture will get information that can save hundreds, thousands or (G*d forbid) millions of lives, torture is not just appropriate, it’s necessary.  We don’t torture for pleasure or “to make a point,” we do it to save lives.

As for Obama’s that’s “not who we are” statement, I was struck then, as I always am, by how self-referential Barack and Michelle are.  They were at it again in Africa.  Michelle, the spoiled darling of a middle-class Chicago family, said that she’s just like the Senegalese (and before that, she was just like youths in Chicago’s worst ghettos).  I know she’s striving for empathy, but it just ends up looking narcissistic.

Obama is worse, though, because he is America’s official spokesman.  While in Senegal, the press asked him about his response to the Supreme Court’s decisions opening the door for national gay marriage.  (By the way, I like Andrew Klavan’s take.)  Obama, of course, approves.  Not only did he say that, he used the question as an opportunity to talk about gay rights as human rights.  This is actually an important thing, because gays are subject to terrible abuse in both Muslim and Christian Africa.  No matter how one feels about gay marriage or homosexuality, the torture, imprisonment, and murder gays experience throughout Africa is a true crime against human rights.

With the gay marriage question, Obama — who is the greatest orator since Lincoln, right? — had the opportunity to make a profound statement about basic principles of human dignity.  Instead, he embarked upon a wandering rumination about his feelings and his thoughts:

The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa. So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions. And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.

But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally. I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view. And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.

So my basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you — the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law — people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember.

Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated. And I think that applies here as well. (Emphasis added.)

No wonder that the Senegalese president Mackey Sall had no compunction about delivering a smackdown to the American president. And I do mean a smackdown, since he told Obama that he was a hypocrite to say that every culture has its own way of doing things, and Obama totally respects that, it’s just that the American way is better:

These issues are all societal issues basically, and we cannot have a standard model which is applicable to all nations, all countries — you said it, we all have different cultures. We have different religions. We have different traditions. And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.

Obama is a petty mind with a bully pulpit.

A French military victory in Mali — and a dismal American record

The Malians are thrilled, as they should be, and the French should be pretty darn proud themselves:

French troops headed to Mali

Residents of Mali’s northern town of Gao, captured from sharia-observing Islamist rebels by French and Malian troops, danced in the streets to drums and music on Sunday as the French-led offensive also drove the rebels from Timbuktu.

The weekend gains made at Gao and Timbuktu by the French and Malian troops capped a two-week whirlwind intervention by France in its former Sahel colony, which has driven al Qaeda-allied militant fighters northwards into the desert and mountains.

So, let’s see what we have here:

Another hanging in Iran

Another hanging in Iran

On the US side, President Obama, without consent from Congress, brings US forces to Libya to destroy a nominal US ally, creating a power vacuum that al Qaeda fills, with disastrous results for four Americans serving their country in Benghazi.  Also, President Obama uses the full force of diplomatic pressure in Egypt to force out a nominal US ally, creating a power vacuum that the Muslim Brother fills, with disastrous results for the Egyptian people, who are now rioting in the streets, and quite possibly creates an existential threat Israel.  When it comes to Syria, whose tyrannical leader Obama and his political friends had praises, Obama does nothing at all, leading to mass murders throughout the country, and another major Middle Eastern refugee crisis.  Likewise, in Iran, when the people rose to challenge a tyrannical government that had abandoned even the pretense of democratic procedures, Obama stood by silently.

Obama's bitch is Egyptian dictator

Meanwhile, on the French side, in two weeks the French destroyed al Qaeda’s tightening group on a moderate Muslim nation, leading historically moderate Muslims to celebrate and to beg the French to stick around.

Obama, in common with all Progressives, tends to believe that there’s a “right side to history.”  Perhaps he ought to revisit the notion, because he seems to be on the wrong side every time.

The New York Times comes out pro-gun: but only for African elephant protection

Babar's mother getting shot

As far as the New York Times and the rest of American Progressives are concerned, those Americans who insist that they want to exercise their Second Amendment rights for self-protection are delusional and, quite possibly, nascent psychopathic killers.  Guns are bad.  Really, really bad.  The evidence is irrelevant because . . . yes, guns are bad.

Except that guns aren’t always bad.  While your average Progressive understands that they’re obviously a bad idea when people use them to protect themselves, they’re a very good — indeed, an innovative idea — when Africans come together with guns to protect elephants.

I am not delusional (nor am I a nascent psychopathic killer).  The New York Times practically vibrates with excitement as it describes the way Kenyans have armed themselves and come together to protect elephants from poachers:

From Tanzania to Cameroon, tens of thousands of elephants are being poached each year, more than at any time in decades, because of Asia’s soaring demand for ivory. Nothing seems to be stopping it, including deploying national armies, and the bullet-riddled carcasses keep stacking up. Scientists say that at this rate, African elephants could soon go the way of the wild American bison.

But in this stretch of northern Kenya, destitute villagers have seized upon an unconventional solution that, if replicated elsewhere, could be the key to saving thousands of elephants across Africa, conservationists say. In a growing number of communities here, people are so eager, even desperate, to protect their wildlife that civilians with no military experience are banding together, grabbing shotguns and G3 assault rifles and risking their lives to confront heavily armed poaching gangs.


Villagers are also turning against poachers because the illegal wildlife trade fuels crime, corruption, instability and intercommunal fighting. Here in northern Kenya, poachers are diversifying into stealing livestock, printing counterfeit money and sometimes holding up tourists. Some are even buying assault rifles used in ethnic conflicts.

The conservation militias are often the only security forces around, so they have become de facto 911 squads, rushing off to all sorts of emergencies in areas too remote for the police to quickly gain access to and often getting into shootouts with poachers and bandits.

“This isn’t just about animals,” said Paul Elkan, a director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is trying to set up community ranger squads in South Sudan modeled on the Kenyan template. “It’s about security, conflict reconciliation, even nation building.”

You can read the whole thing here but, if I understand it correctly, the Times isn’t just excited about the elephants (although that’s important).  The Times is also thrilled about is the fact that, when African villagers form armed militias, they can protect themselves from crime, economic destitution, and hostile neighbors — all as a byproduct of protecting elephants.

Hey, I’ve got an idea!

Let’s import a few hundred elephants into various American cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, etc..  Then, when Obama and his team go after American guns, we no longer have to rely on something as outdated as the Second Amendment to protect American gun ownership (it’s just for muskets, for Gawd’s sake!).  Nor do we have to drag out all those tired old statistics showing that, as John Lott trenchantly puts it, “More Guns, Less Crime.”

Instead, when the Obama government shows up on our doorsteps, demanding that we disarm ourselves, we can talk in language the Progressives understand:  “If you take away our guns, hundreds of elephants will die needlessly!  Use a gun; save an elephant.”

#JosephKony, Slacktivism, and the U.S. Marines

Those few of you who have been dwelling under a rock for the past week may not be familiar with the name Joseph Kony.  Thanks to a viral video by a group called Invisible Children, Joseph Kony, crazed Ugandan killer, is a super-de-dooper hot topic, especially amongst high school and middle school children.

The only problem, as astute critics immediately pointed out, is that the video is yesterday’s news.  Kony is an incredibly evil figure, but he’s not an ascendant, or even ascending figure:

It would be great to get rid of Kony.  He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years.  But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

First, the facts. Following a successful campaign by the Ugandan military and failed peace talks in 2006, the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now. The Ugandan military has been pursuing the LRA since then but had little success (andseveral big screw-ups). In October last year, President Obama authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. Army advisors to help the Ugandan military track down Kony, with no results disclosed to date.

Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.

As I wrote for FP in 2010, the small remaining LRA forces are still wreaking havoc and very hard to catch, but Northern Uganda has had tremendous recovery in the 6 years of peace since the LRA left.

What appears to have happened is that a very well done video has triggered mass slacktivism.  What?!  You haven’t heard that term?  Here’s a handy-dandy definition:

Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a term formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research.

Here in Marin, kids are going to put posters showing Kony’s face all over the school. That’ll larn that evil Kony fella. This is like Yosemite Sam taking shots at Bugs Bunny. It’s farce.

Of course, in Marin, it’s not farce at all.  We sophisticated, enlightened Marinites understand that putting up posters increases awareness.  This is an important “consciousness raising” exercise.  The kids now have raised consciousnesses.  They will be better people for the experience.

Invisible Children Supporters Doing Something

I am being sarcastic, of course.  Although Marin always manages to reduce common sense to its most illogical extreme, the fact is that one cannot deal with a problem unless one is aware of a problem.  And kids who are completely blinkered, with no awareness whatsoever of the world around them grow up to be useless, ineffectual adults who cannot even recognize that there are problems that need to be solved.

Nevertheless, the lesson for the kids here, given Kony’s fundamental irrelevance, is that posters are good enough.  My suggestion would be that, in addition to watching videos and putting up posters, the kids visit One Last Word, where blogger Dan Hamilton contrasts the huge outpouring of passive (but expensive) support for a video about a minor, albeit incredibly evil, villain with the routine hostility and disdain visited upon our Marines, the men and women who actually do something to take out the bad guys:

United States Marines in Action

I want to assure you of something: while your focus may be momentarily on Joseph Kony, the Marine Corp’s focus is continuously on locating, closing width, and destroying the enemy regardless of social popularity.

If you want us to take down Joseph Kony, call your State Representative and tell him or her that the reason you pay taxes is to feed, clothe, and equip Marines, so they can go stomping through the jungles of Uganda in order to capture and kill war criminals that have enslaved and brutalized hundreds of thousands of children.

Another question, however, persists: where were all the “Social Media Activists” when Marines were getting shot at, and their Humvees were getting turned inside out by IED’s while trying to stop atrocities in the Middle East? Atrocities that are very akin to what is happening in Uganda.

In our darkest hour, we needed you to approve and support our mission, not just the individual solider or Marine. The Marine Corps may be our medium, but the American people are our reason. If you shunned Iraq because the cause was not just only to turn around and pursue another mass murderer, it leaves us wondering why you picked your cause over our cause while we’re the ones dying.

I wish good luck to our kids.  They’re going to need it, since it’s mentally and emotionally disabling to grow up in a culture that marginalizes the people who actually do, in favor of celebrating (and funding) those who do no more than feel.

Somali catch and release implications

** Newsflash***

Heard on the popular “Don and Roma” show on WLS AM890 Radio during this morning’s Chicagoland commute:

In his interview with the radio hosts, Illinois Senator and naval intelligence officer Mark Kirk explained that the U.S. policy toward Somali piracy is apparently to capture them and release them near their home ports, presumably so that they would be spared a long walk home. Bereft of consequences, the number of ships captured and the ransoms  demanded by the pirates have skyrocketed (into the $100 millions per ship). The ransom money is then used to fund massive Al Qaeda training camps in Africa.

And, why should this not be the case? It’s good business and there certainly is no risk from the U.S. or any other Nato warship.

So, here’s my question: why not simply destroy the pirate vessels and leave the surviving pirates to die? Wouldn’t that bring a quick end to piracy?




Life and death — lots of death — in Africa

News out of the Ivory Coast is that death and chaos are rising quickly.  The Obama Administration is, as always, “deeply concerned.”  (Has it occurred to anybody that the administration’s real strength might be writing sentiments for condolence cards?  They’re very good at empathetic, and occasionally bathetic, pabulum.)

Every time I read a story such as this out of Africa — whether about the Ivory Coast, or Rwanda, or Liberia, or the Republic of Congo, or any other African nation riven by violence — I ask the trite and logical question “why?”  What is it about Africa that makes significant segments of that continent prone to violence?

And what violence it is.  There’s a barbarity to the African violence that makes Westerners quail.  Africa seems to lead the world in child soldiers.  Worse (if such a thing can be worse), these soldiers don’t get indoctrinated in their youth and naturally drift into warfare (which is the Islamist way doing things).  Instead, they’re created when other soldiers slaughter the adults in the village and kidnap the children.  The girls are raped and killed, or kept as whores, and the boys, no matter how young, are put on the front lines.

The African killing gangs display unusual imagination and innovation when it comes to devising horrible ways to kill their enemies.  Squeezing tires around them and setting the tires alight, chopping off limbs, savage machete attacks, literally raping women and girls to death — Africa has seen it all.  These dreadful deaths are not confined to one geographic area.  They span the continent from the southern-most tip, to the central areas, to the furthest northeastern or southeastern coasts.

In the African way of warfare, civilians aren’t just fair game, they’re preferred game.  While Western nations discovered that some wars couldn’t be won if the civilian population didn’t feel pain (so that Sherman marched through Georgia, the Allies carpet-bombed Germany, and the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Japan), the West resorted to those tactics only when all other conventional military tactics failed.  In Africa, however, it’s the women, children and old people who are the first line of attack.  Counter-intuitively, this bass ackwards approach to warfare doesn’t end war before it starts, which one might think would be the case given how efficient it’s proven in the past at ending a conventional war.  Instead, it makes for years or decades of guerrilla warfare, with a constant backdrop of starved, brutalized, and slaughtered civilians.

I’ve heard lots of theories about Africa’s frequent forays into the worst type of savagery.  The number one charge is that Western colonialism destroyed its traditional tribal infrastructure and left it with nothing but chaos.  Certainly in the case of the Republic of Congo, which was the former Belgian Congo, one can draw a straight line from the Belgian habit of punishing recalcitrant blacks by cutting off arms and legs, to the military’s and guerrilla’s current habit of doing precisely the same thing.

Other parts of the world, though — indeed all other parts of the world but for Europe itself — experienced European imperialism without the consistency of societal decay and violence that characterizes Africa.  Sometimes, in fact, colonialism was a good thing.  As Niall Ferguson argues in Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, British colonialism, although morally bad, ended up leaving successful nations in its wake.  That is, it did so everywhere except in Africa.

While the British colonies in Africa may have been somewhat better off than former German or Dutch or French or Belgian colonies, they still weren’t healthy.  What’s even more amazing is that even those colonies that seemed exceptionally stable could so quickly get sucked into the African morass.  The perfect example is Zimbabwe, which was for decades the poster child for a healthy post-colonial nation.  Then, Mugabe got infected with “insane African dictator” syndrome, destroyed the colonial infrastructure and, in about five years, reduced Zimbabwe from a bread basket to a basket case.  Derapage in Africa happens quickly.

Colonialism, then, doesn’t seem as if it’s a complete explanation for the myriad problems in Africa.  Another explanation is “slavery” (always with a finger pointed to the West, and especially against America).  It’s true that both Western and Arab nations have seen Africa as fertile slave territory since at least Roman times.  What people forget, though, is that part of why Africa was such an attractive place for gathering slaves was because of the same problem that plagues Africa today:  Tribalism.

Contrary to popular mythology, whites didn’t normally trek into the interior to kidnap whole villages for the slave trade (too dangerous, not cost effective).  Instead, Tribe A raided its enemy, Tribe B, and brought the captives to the coastal areas, where Tribe A sold Tribe B to the slavers.  African slavery might not have survived if the Africans had risen up en masse against the slave trade.  The problem was that, in order to achieve short term tribal goals, the Africans were complicit in the slave trade, making sure there were always plenty of bodies heading off on the slave ships.  In other words, slavery was a by-product, not a cause, of the perpetual civilian warfare that keeps parts of Africa dysfunctional today.

Another theory I’ve heard advanced is Africa’s natural situation.  None of its native animals can be domesticated, its climate is hostile (huge droughts, followed by devastating deluges), and its diseases are ferocious, demoralizing and devastating.  Certainly that would depress development, but it doesn’t explain the violence, especially in those parts of Africa such as Zimbabwe or Uganda that don’t suffer so badly from Africa’s homegrown plagues and deficiencies.

One of the things that’s definitely plagued northern Africa in modern times is Islam.  In the Sudan, while the world wrung its hands (and Samantha Power kept strangely silent), the white Islamic rulers killed off all the Christians in the usual brutal African fashion.  Then, the Sudanese killed off all the black Muslims.  I assume that, after a few years of gathering its strength, the Sudanese government will turn its attention to surrounding nations.  Somalia is no better.  Nor, judging by the news headlines, is Egypt (which, although considered part of the Middle East, is geographically African).

Keith Richburg, in Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, places part of the blame for modern African’s myriad failings on enablers in the West.  Although its been several years since I read his wonderful book, I distinctly remember one, maybe two, chapters devoted to the way in which American black leaders (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc.) have pandered to and protected the worst dictators in Africa.  Just as bad, whites in America, fearful of being called racist, have kept quiet in the face of this disgusting behavior.

My mother, who has a lot of native common sense, thinks one of Africa’s problems is that it never developed a written history.  This kept culture oral and local.  It prevented a coherent national culture that would have depressed a lot of the worst tribal instincts.  It also prevented an overarching morality from developing, something that bound together the Jews, despite the diaspora, and Europe, despite its frequent nationalist warfare.

I’m not sure there’s a unified theory that will explain Africa’s deep and long-lasting problems.  It’s a huge continent that seems to be a magnet for all bad things, whether disease, colonialism, slavery, Islamist conquest, tribal violence, freak weather, etc.  All I know is that, when I read a story such as today’s about the Ivory Coast, all I can do is think, sadly, “Not again.”

Obama bails on African AIDS

Whenever it comes to mentioning presidential policy, this New York Times article about the collapse of AIDS care in Africa is studiously neutral.  Read between the lines (and make it almost to the end of the article), though, and you’ll see the truth peek out:  Bush, the quintessential “white man,” helped Africa enormously, while Obama, the self-identified “black man” on the census form, is abandoning African AIDS.

‘Nuff said.  The irony meter is clanging loudly.