2014: My Year in Review

January 1, 2015

by Avi Davis

This was my year to travel and I did so extensively – to a total of 23 countries.  From January through December I visited the Bahamas in the Caribbean;  Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay in South America; The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau in West Africa;  South Africa and Namibia in Southern Africa;  Ethiopia in East Africa; Spain, Germany and the U.K. in Europe; Israel and Jordan in The Middle East; China and Thailand in Asia; Tahiti and Australia in the Pacific and Russia.

During my travels, conducted mostly alone, I was able to meet with a variety of people from all walks of life –  and made a point of questioning them about their aspirations and concerns, seeking to determine where they felt their lives and their nations were headed.

I spent eight weeks in Israel and watched as the country went to war and the impact this had on local families. I felt the anguish of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters – since everyone seemed to know someone who was fighting in Gaza.

I spent a week in Namibia and observed how a supposedly third world country is maturing into a hot tourist destination, slowly moving out of the grip of the socialist mentality which had locked up the economy and free enterprise for so long.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I watched as my tour guide was pulled over by a traffic cop who insisted he was exceeding the speed limit when that was clearly not the case.  The matter was settled with a bribe and we moved on. “The usual” he said, as he threw the ticket out the window.

In Argentina I was taken to the hippest night spots in Buenos Aries and met young people with not a care in the world but older people desperately worried about the looming foreign debt crisis and how a new default would jeopardize the country’s economic growth.

I sat through extended and repeated electrical blackouts in The Gambia, events which seemed to have no impact whatsoever on the local population who were completely habituated to it and who carried on doing whatever they were doing as if they had expected it.

In Rio De Janiero, I was swept up in a street carnival in Ipanema and for the first time saw outrageously attired transgender street performers and artists greeted as if they were the most normal thing in the world.

I was evacuated, (together with the medical team with whom I was traveling)  from Guinea Bissau at the beginning of the Ebola scare when it was reported that several Liberians ( a nation only 200 miles away) had contracted the disease.

I landed on a Sunday in Barcelona where a massive protest rally against the European Union was being staged in the city’s downtown streets and the demand for Catalonian independence was thick in the air.

I traveled through southern Jordan and discovered that my otherwise hospitable tour guides, who made their living off the tourists who passing through the Israeli sea port of Eilat, detested the Israelis and how they had completely bought the Palestinian historical narrative.

I traveled to Guangzhou (Canton) in China and saw how a massive metropolis had risen there, with skyscrapers to rival New York, but without sufficient sanitation and hygiene. Almost no one I met, outside the major hotels, spoke English.

I visited Australia for the first time in four years to discover an optimistic, hopeful people who are warm, welcoming and helpful to anyone who asks for assistance.

I visited Moscow – a swish, cosmopolitan city, that on the face of things could compete with any western metropolis, but, as we learned later in the year, the apparent prosperity masks some very serious economic problems.

I visited the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and found business down and shop keepers complaining that they might need to close their booths or enact some other form of retrenchment.

I met the tiny Jewish community of Papeete, Tahiti whose 50 or so members – many of them younger than 45 , maintain regular  Orthodox services every shabbat and are proud of their commitment to Judaism and Israel.

I landed in Munich, Germany on Easter Sunday and was astonished to see the churches full of worshippers, displaying a genuine and heartfelt religious spirit.

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These, of course, are just snapshots and in most of the places I landed and stayed I did not have the time to get a full picture of the reality of ordinary life.  But here are some general observations I can make that unite all of my experiences:

1. Cell phones:  in almost every country I visited , from the richest – Germany, to the poorest – Guinea Bissau, cell phones seemed to be everywhere. While that could not always be said for the availability of the Internet, I was astonished to see cabbies in the Gambia and native aborigines in outback Australia, whipping out and speaking on cell phones as if they had possessed  them for years.  This communications revolution has in some sense united the world in a way that could not have been imagined 100 years ago.

2. United States of America:  There was hardly a country I visited where the locals were not in awe of America, and even those who said they despised it, still wanted to visit the country, if not to live there.  From the rangers in Etosha National Park in Namibia to my tour guide in Moscow to islanders who lived on tiny Pacific atolls in Tahiti, the United States still looms as a magnet for people seeking life advancement and general prosperity.

3. Concern about the rise of radical Islam: Perhaps only in Tahiti  was this not an issue, but in almost every other country I encountered a painful awareness of how various societies feel themselves threatened. It was just as  evident on the streets of Banjul – the capital of the former British colony of The Gambia as it was amongst Jordanian hotel workers and German porters. Almost everywhere I went I got the sense that people did not believe that their governments were doing enough to stem the rise of this very real domestic threat.

Returning to the United States after such extended trips abroad provided me with an interesting contrast between wealth and poverty, efficiency and government bureaucratic bungling, reliable provision of basic services and intermittent outages.  Observing how other people lived and how much they envied our lifestyle and freedoms, it felt good to be returning to and living in the USA.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone.

 

 

 

 

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2014: The Year of Flying Dangerously

December 31, 2014

By Avi Davis

The news for the airline industry does not appear to be good. Three major airline crashes  – and one a disappearance without any trace – attracted worldwide attention this year and have made travelers nervous.

 

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Indeed the global record this year would seem to present an alarming trend:  if are no survivors on the AirAsia Airbus 320 jet  flying from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore, 2014 will have been the worst year for air travel since 2005. Asia has borne the brunt, with 537 people lost on two Malaysia Airlines flights – MH370 , which disappeared on March 8, and MH17, shot down by a missile over Ukraine on July 17. A Transasia Airways crash in Taiwan on July 23 claimed another 48 lives.  While there are more than 50,000 flights around the world each day, with no report of malfunction or distress for any of them, it might appear that things are getting worse for airline travel, not better.

Is it then safe to travel on airplanes?

Dr. Arnold Barnett, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done extensive research in the field of commercial flight safety. He found that over the 35 years between 1975 and 2010, the death risk per flight was one in seven million. This statistic is the probability that someone who randomly selected one of the airline’s flights over the 19-year study period would be killed in route. That means that any time you board a flight on a major carrier in this country, your chance of being in a fatal accident is one in seven million. It doesn’t matter whether you fly once every three years or every day of the year.

In fact, based on this incredible safety record, if you did fly every day of your life, probability indicates that it would take you nineteen thousand years before you would succumb to a fatal accident.

Perhaps you have occasionally taken the train for your travels, believing that it would be safer. Think again. Based on train accidents over the past twenty years, your chances of dying on a transcontinental train journey are one in a million. Those are great odds, mind you. But flying coast-to-coast is ten times safer than making the trip by train.

How about driving, our typical form of transportation? There are approximately one hundred and thirty people killed daily in auto accidents. That’s every day — yesterday, today and tomorrow. And that’s forty-seven thousand killed per year.

In 1990, five hundred million airline passengers were transported an average distance of eight hundred miles, through more than seven million takeoffs and landings, in all kinds of weather conditions, with a loss of only thirty-nine lives. During that same year the National Transportation Safety Board’s report shows that over forty-six thousand people were killed in auto accidents. A sold-out 727 jet would have to crash every day of the week, with no survivors, to equal the highway deaths per year in this country.

Dr. Barnett of MIT compared the chance of dying from an airline accident versus a driving accident, after accounting for the greater number of people who drive each day. Can you guess what he found? You are nineteen times safer in a plane than in a car. Every single time you step on a plane, no matter how many times you fly, you arenineteen times less likely to die than in your car.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 permitted the airlines to be competitive both in the routes they flew and the fares they charged. When the price of air travel decreased, the number who flew increased. In 1977, two hundred and seventy million passengers flew on U.S. scheduled airlines. In 1987 four hundred and fifty million flew. For passengers, that resulted in the frustration of crowded terminals and delayed boardings and takeoffs. But did deregulation cause safety to be compromised? Definitely not!

Accident statistics provided by the National Transportation Safety Board show that — despite a fifty percent increase in passengers during the ten years after deregulation — there was a forty percent decrease in the number of fatal accidents and a twenty-five percent decrease in the number of fatalities, compared to the ten years before deregulation.

If you are going to worry about dying, there are many more probable ways to die than on a commercial jet. Take a look at the chart below, which shows the chance of fatalities on a commercial flight compared to other causes of death in the United States. Notice that you are more likely to die from a bee sting than from a commercial flight. The number one killer in the United States is cardiovascular disease, with about eight hundred and eighty-five thousand deaths per year. Each of us has about a fifty percent (50%) chance of dying of cardiovascular disease. Whenever we fly, we have a one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of dying

 

DEATH BY: YOUR ODDS

  • Cardiovascular disease: 1 in 2
  • Smoking (by/before age 35): 1 in 600
  • Car trip, coast-to-coast: 1 in 14,000
  • Bicycle accident: 1 in 88,000
  • Tornado: 1 in 450,000
  • Train, coast-to-coast: 1 in 1,000,000
  • Lightning: 1 in 1.9 million
  • Bee sting: 1 in 5.5 million
  • U.S. commercial jet airline: 1 in 7 million

Sources: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley


How about accidental deaths? In the chart below you can compare the average number of airline fatalities per year (not including commuter airlines) from 1981 to 1994 with the most recent figures for other forms of accidental death. Again, you can see that flying is relatively insignificant compared to other causes of death.


Number of Accidental Deaths Per Year By Cause

  • 100 on commercial flight
  • 850 by electrical current
  • 1000 on a bicycle
  • 1452 by accidental gunfire
  • 3000 by complications to medical procedures
  • 3600 by inhaling or ingesting objects
  • 5000 by fire
  • 5000 by drowning
  • 5300 by accidental poisoning
  • 8000 as pedestrians
  • 11,000 at work
  • 12,000 by falls
  • 22,500 at home
  • 46,000 in auto accidents

SOURCES: Bureau of Safety Statistics, National Transportation Safety Board


I’m not trying to encourage you to become afraid of your bicycle or of walking down the stairs in your home. My most important point is that no one can anticipate all of your questions about flight safety and the airline industry. You may have specific questions about maintenance or security or pilot error that are not simple to address. Regardless of your worries, you are putting your life in the hands of an industry with a record of dedicating its creative intelligence to your safety. And the Federal Aviation Administration, the air traffic controllers, the airline companies, the pilots, the flight attendants, the mechanics, the manufacturers have striven every year to make flight safer  than the year before.

And that’s not by accident: The airline industry has continued to improve safety standards for both planes and broader flight protocols, ensuring that we almost always get from point A to point B without any real trouble, much less danger. You have a one-in-11 million chance of being killed in an airplane crash, meaning you’re much more likely to be eaten by a shark, or as some airline executives claim, more likely to die in the airport — and certainly while driving there — than on the plane itself.

None of this is a comfort to those who lost loved ones in the major airline disasters of this year. Fate had singled them out to be on a particular plane at a  particular time and there was nothing they or their family could have done to alter what became of them.  Yet, we would be foolish to begin regarding airplane travel as unsafe or prone to fatal accidents.  It is simply not the case and rather than demonstrating this nervousness we should be extolling this remarkable industry whose record of safety has enabled us to see countries and experience pleasures not dreamed of by our ancestors.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 


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