Famous Sayings #109 — ‘Old Man’

June 17, 2018

Come on, don’t you want to play some hoops with your old man?

old man, Father's Day, famous sayings

It’s still Father’s Day where I am so I couldn’t let the night pass without discussing a familiar term that has to deal with fathers.

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Famous Sayings #108 — ‘Better Late Than Never’

June 11, 2018

Jim, you’re finally here! This meeting started 10 minutes ago, but better late than never.

better late than never, famous sayings
Here is a scene from the NBC hit show, Better Late Than Never. (From left) Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, and Henry Winkler can be seen in Berlin as Bradshaw reads a letter written for Winkler. Taken via screenshot. (Video)

I’m trying my best to get these famous sayings posts on Sundays, but like last week, I’m a day behind. Better late than never.

While doing the research for this post, I discovered that there is a show with that title that airs on NBC. Better Late Than Never is an American reality-travel show that was based on a South Korean show entitled Grandpas Over Flowers. Each episode sees the cast traveling to foreign locations without luxuries and checking off items on their bucket lists. The American show stars Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, William Shatner, and Henry Winkler (who serves as one of the series’ executive producers). Comedian Jeff Dye serves as their younger companion.

Better Late than Never is produced by Universal Television and it airs on NBC. The network bought the rights for the remake in 2014, the show began production in August 2015, and it first aired on August 23, 2016. The show is still running, and it was picked up for its second season on September 22, 2016.

I haven’t watched this show because I haven’t watched much television — beyond sporting events and select programs — for years. Perhaps I should watch this program, although I am a bit late to the party. Better late than never.

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Famous Sayings #107 — ‘New World Order’

June 4, 2018

We must prepare for the coming new world order.

new world order, famous sayings
The Gomberg map envisioned a new world moral order after World War II.  By Maurice Gomberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier this year, I talked about conspiracy theories. In that post, I discussed where the phrase “conspiracy theory” came from, how it was first used, and what some prevalent conspiracy theories were. One type of theory I left out concerns a new world order because that phrase is famous saying, too.

When searching for this topic, there was relatively sparse information about the history of the phrase New World Order, although there were plenty of articles and pages that used the phrase, so my search first took me to Wikipedia to find other leads and sourcing material. As it turns out, this is an extensive topic, but I will have to focus on certain aspects so this post won’t be too long.

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Famous Sayings #106 — ‘Might Makes Right’

May 27, 2018

Whenever powerful people get away with crimes, we are reminded that ‘might makes right.’

might makes right, famous sayings

This is a phrase that I first learned of during my seventh-grade history class. I don’t quite remember what was being discussed, but my teacher was illustrating how people throughout history have used force to justify their actions. The message was received.

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Famous Sayings #105 — ‘Divide and Conquer’

May 20, 2018

The best way to neutralize the opposition is to divide and conquer.

divide and conquer, strategy, Machiavelli, famous sayings, social, military, political
Image via Flickr by -Nicola-. Some rights reserved.

Today, I decided to go with a familiar phrase that is highly relevant and may always be. On one hand, this phrase is used in reference to sinister strategies that have altered the course of history. On the other hand, a divide and conquer strategy or protocol can have practical uses to it.

While most of us may understand what it means to “divide and conquer,” most of us haven’t really thought about the origin of the phrase, let alone the first use of such a strategy.


Who First Used the Phrase ‘Divide and Conquer’?

It’s unclear, but the use of the idea has been around for millennia. It has also been connected to Machiavelli, especially from the ideas he put forth in some of his works.

The phrase “divide and conquer” comes from the Latin phrase divide et impera (which translates to “divide and rule”). According to two sources I consulted (TheIdioms.com and the Online Etymology Dictionary), the phrase divide and conquer first appeared in the English language in 1600 A.D.


What Does It Mean to ‘Divide and Conquer’?

Generally, the divide-and-conquer strategy involves one group pitting smaller groups against each other to obtain (and keep) power (over a populace). A divide-and-conquer strategy can also be used in computing, but which an algorithm allows a machine to break up a complex problem into smaller problems until all the problems are solved (Wiktionary).

Militarily speaking: To conquer, the first group must already have some form of power and access to adequate economic, political, and/or military forces. For the conquerors to maintain their power and influence, they often work to keep smaller groups or forces from uniting.

Machiavelli was known to have alluded to the divide-and-conquer strategy in two of his most important works, The Prince (1513) and The Art of War (1521). In short, he wrote about weakening the enemy by getting men in opposing ranks to distrust each other (Chadwick). Through his writings, Machiavelli has become synonymous with deceit and treachery (Mansfield). Likewise, so has such a strategy (whether you are talking about being Machiavellian or using a divide-and-conquer strategy on people).

The divide-and-conquer strategy has been used throughout history, primarily in the militaristic sense. As pointed out on wiseGEEK, this strategy was used by the Romans when they took Britain; by the British Empire when it was extending to India, and; by the Anglo-Normans when they took over Ireland.


How Is This Phrase Relevant Today?

Today, the phrase divide and conquer is most commonly used in the political and social sense. A “political staple,” it is highly effective because the people who use it often have extensive knowledge of the groups they are controlling, and people do not realize that the tactic is being used on them most of the time (wiseGEEK). However, even when people are aware of this, they are still stuck in their tribalistic tendencies.

We can see these principles are work every day. Some of the most pressing problems we have are income inequality, a broken elections system, racial inequality, and the dangers presented to the environment. Of course, have not been able to make as much progress in these areas due to greed, but another factor is that the powerful have used a divide-and-conquer strategy to discredit their opposition and to get the people who need the most help to fight amongst themselves.

For example:

We can’t get poor and middle-class people to band together because they often cling to their deep-seated prejudices, particularly those based on race and religion. At the same, we are told to blame people less fortunate for our problems, and this extends to an anti-immigration sentiment. This is called punching down and while we do it, we ignore the ones who are causing inequality or fomenting it for their own personal gain.

Additionally, the powerful like to propagandize people from causes that might help the many and not the few but associating those causes with discredited or despised people. And the people we are told to despise might be the targets of misinformation campaigns. Again, all of this is done for greed and personal gain.


How Do We Overcome the Use of Divide-and-Conquer Strategies?

As alluded to above, it will take us being cognizant that the such a strategy is in use but being strong enough to fight it and educate ourselves. We need to first recognize what our biases are, work past them, and do our own research to counter propaganda so we can reach better outcomes. Humans benefit when they work together, but to get to that point, we must decide which is more important: a decent standard of living or an undeserved sense of superiority. The latter is empty, especially when it’s used as a tool to distract us and keep us down.


Works Cited

Chadwick, Ian. “Chapter 26: The Forest and the Trees.” The Municipal Machiavelli. Weblog. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <http://ianchadwick.com/machiavelli/chapters-22-26/chapter-26-the-forest-and-the-trees/>.

“divide and conquer.” Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC; 2018. Web. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <https://www.definitions.net/definition/divide%20and%20conquer>.

“divide and conquer or rule.” TheIdioms.com. Web. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <https://www.theidioms.com/divide-and-conquer-or-rule/>.

Harper, Douglas. “divide | Origin and meaning of divide by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/divide>.

Mansfield, Harvey. “Niccolò Machiavelli.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1 May 2018. Web. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Niccolo-Machiavelli>.

Various. “divide and conquer.” Wiktionary. Last Updated 28 Apr 2018. Web. <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/divide_and_conquer>.

“What is a Divide and Conquer Strategy.” wiseGEEK. Web. Retrieved 20 May 2018. <http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-divide-and-conquer-strategy.htm>.

Famous Sayings: #104 — ‘Mother Knows Best …’

May 13, 2018

In some situations I am convince that my mother knows best.

mother knows best, famous sayings, Mothers Day, Edna Ferber

While the phrase “father knows best” might be more familiar because of the sitcom that ran in the United States from 1954 to 1960, but the phrase “mother knows best” might have been recorded much earlier. While I was not able to find a definite source for the origin of this phrase, I was able to find some information on an old work that had “mother knows best” as its title.

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Famous Sayings: #103 — ‘Neither Snow, nor Rain …’

May 7, 2018

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

famous sayings, neither snow, nor rain, United States Postal Service, unofficial motto, Herodotus, Persian Wars, The Histories
Pictured is part of the engraved passage on part of the James A. Farley post office building in New York City. Image via Flickr by Kevan.

As many of you can guess, this phrase is connected to the United States Postal Service. The USPS was founded in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin served as its first postmaster general.

Today, the United States Postal Service is one important topic that is often overlooked, but we need to talk about it because of the purpose it serves and what some people want to do with it. The United States Postal Service currently employs 644,124 people, it has 157,328,676 delivery sites and 23,939 vehicles, and the USPS is responsible for delivering/processing billions of pieces of mail daily (VICE). Even though deliveries are carried out Monday through Saturday, the post office runs all year-round.

Also, while the USPS gets a lot of flak for lazy workers, disgruntled workers, and damaged packages, it is more efficient than services like UPS and FedEx and its services are cheaper. Additionally, The USPS delivers in unincorporated lands, unlike the other services, and it is an independent federal department.

With that in mind, I would like to look at what is considered the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service and get to the bottom of why it has become synonymous with the hardworking people who have worked for this government department.


Where Did the Phrase Originate?

Believe it or not, the USPS has no official motto. However, like most U.S. agencies and departments, it has a mission. The mission of the postal service can be found in Section 101(a) of Title 39 of the U.S. Code, which is also known as the Postal Reorganization Act (“Postal Service Mission”):

The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.

Most people who have heard of the motto “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow …” believe that is the official motto of the United States Postal Service, but that phrase actually comes from Volume 4, Book 8, paragraph 98 of The Histories by Herodotus (“1439”). He was talking about the mounted courier system set up by the Persian King Darius. The following passage was translated by A.D. Godley in 1924:

It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.


Who Was Herodotus?

Herodotus, who was born in Mesopotamia around the 5th century B.C., composed oral histories into a work simply called The Histories. While the purpose of the work was to outline the causes and events of the Greek-Persian wars, the work begins with a story about Lydian succession because it had a loose connection to the Persians.

The Histories has major flaws, namely the mixture of facts and fiction. Herodotus put those on equal footing because he sought not only to inform but to entertain. Even though that is a cause to criticize Herodotus, Damen argues both the facts and fiction offered value for the reader because the former provided a basis for the study of history and the latter informs us of how propaganda worked, and it informs us of the value systems ancient civilizations had.

More importantly, Herodotus’s recording of the history of the Persian wars (492-479 B.C.) allows us to see how the Greeks’ victories altered the course of its history as well as the history of Europe. Although it was unclear what Darius, or his son Xerces, wanted with Greece (which didn’t have mineral or many riches), Greece was between Persia and Rome. If the Persians had reached Rome, they may have wiped out its leaders and prevented the Roman empire from forming. If Greece was taken over by the Persians, the Greeks would not have had their liberty and it may have been likely that they never have created philosophy, drama, art, or architecture (Damen).


How Did ‘Neither Snow, Nor Rain …’ Become the USPS’ Unofficial Motto?

One version of the phrase is the following:

Neither ran, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds.

However, that is an alteration of the translation of Herodotus’s writings.

The phrase we know is what you’ll find at the top of this entry and it was chosen for the inscription on the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue by William Mitchell Kendall. At the time, Kendall was an architect from the firm of McKim, Mead & White, which designed that post office. Kendall’s father was a classics scholar and the son read Greek for pleasure. The inscription on the NYC post office was modified from Harvard Professor Georg Herbert Palmer’s translation (“Post Office Mission”).


Why Did I Choose This Saying for This Week?

The United States Postal Service is in the news because, in early 2018, Donald Trump slammed Amazon for not paying taxes at all for 2017 and accused the business of cheating the USPS, which is responsible for approximately 40% of Amazon’s package deliveries. The terms of the deal the USPS has with Amazon are not exactly public, but Trump could get to the bottom of things since he’s in the position to do that.

Currently, the governing board of directors for the United States Postal Service is understaffed, and it’s been that way since 2010. As of today, the United States Postal Services’ governing board of directors only consisted of two people: Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan and Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman. They form Temporary Emergency Committee.

United States Postal Service, board of directors, famous sayings

(The BOD needs at least four people to form a quorum. It lost that quorum in 2014 and its final appointed governor in December 2016.)

The USPS Board of governors is like a corporate board of directors because it is responsible for setting long-term goals for the USPS, controlling expenses, writing policies, and deciding how to invest in the postal service’s future. Trump nominated 3 people in October 2017, but they await Senate approval (Selyukh). A real danger is that Trump may appoint some shady people on the board who will move to privatize the service.

The main problem the USPS faces right now is legislation passed in 2006 that requires it to have enough funds for future retirees 75 years in the future. That’s ridiculous. Right now, the postal service has fallen behind because it is unable to pay for future retirees, which costs the service $5.5 billion a year (Selyukh). The USPS is already struggling to adapt due to email and other advances in technology.


Where Did I First Hear This Phrase?

I might be giving something away with this, but I believe I heard a version of the postman’s unofficial motto on a show called Out of Control. It was an old show starring Dave Coulier that used to air on Nickelodeon. Instead of a postman, there was a mail lady who appeared on one episode that was focused on the mail delivery service.


Did You Know?

Here are a few extra facts about the United States Post Office:

About the NYC Post Office

The New York City Post Office was renamed after James A. Farley in six years after his 1976 death. Farley served as in Post Master General the United States from March 4, 1933, to September 1940. Farley, a Democrat who was active in New York politics, helped Franklin Delano Roosevelt win election as governor in 1928 and helped FDR defeat incumbent president Herbert Hoover in 1932. FDR named Farley as the 53rd Post Master General in 1933.

During his tenure as Post Master General, Farley oversaw a program that was aimed at saving the jobs of postal workers amid massive revenue losses and working within the frame of the New Deal in order to stimulate the economy. That plan included the construction of new buildings and the commission of artwork for those buildings. One building that was constructed during this time was the new headquarters for the Post Office Department which occupied the entire block between 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (“James A. Farley”).

The building was originally built in 1912 but in 1934, it doubled in size under Farley, who was the Postmaster General at the time. The building now occupies two full city blocks (which is eight acres) “and boasts the largest giant-order Corinthian colonnade in the world.”

The post office once offered twenty-four-hour service, but that ended in 2009 due to increased competition from email and other technological advances. Customers can still meet their basic postal needs, which includes stamp purchases and having their packages weighed and mailed.

There were plans to convert much of the building into an Amtrak station named for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The plans were first formed in the 1990s, but the languished until an infusion of stimulus funds in 2010. The completion of the first phase was targeted for 2016 (“James A. Farley Post Office”).

Ira Schnapp

Ira Schnapp is connected to the NYC Post Office.

Schnapp was an Austrian immigrant who came to the United States with his family sometime before 1910. Schnapp ultimately worked for DC Comics as the Senior Vice President of Advertising, but he may have been responsible for numerous logos seen on comic books from the company.

Before he worked for DC, Shnapp worked as an engraver. He was only in his teens when he deployed his skills in Trajan-style engraving for the New York City Library and the New York City Post Office. He engraved the unofficial motto for the post office on that building. He also designed postal stamps (Robby Reed).

The One Time the Post Office Broke Its Unofficial Motto

On Tuesday, January 27, 2015, the United States Postal Service suspended mail deliveries in Connecticut, Rhode Island, southeastern and western Massachusetts and Long Island, New York because of the blizzard in the Northeastern United States. According to USPS spokeswoman Christine Dugas, deliveries were scheduled to continue the 28th (“USPS Suspends”).


Works Cited

“1439: Herodotus (484?-425?). Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.” Bartleby. Web. Retrieved 7 May 2018. <http://www.bartleby.com/73/1439.html>.

Damen, Mark. “Herodotus and the Persian Wars.” USU 1320: History and Civilization. Utah State University. Online Lecture. 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2018. <https://www.usu.edu/markdamen/1320Hist&Civ/chapters/02HEROD.htm>.

“Postal Service Mission and ‘Motto.’” United States Postal Service. Oct 1999. PDF. Retrieved 6 May 2018. <https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/mission-motto.pdf>.

“James A. Farley.” United States Postal Service. March 2005. PDF. Retrieved 19 Apr 2018. <https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/pmg-farley.pdf>.

“James A. Farley Post Office.” The Official Guide to New York City. NYC & Co, Inc. Web. Retrieved 29 Apr 2018. <https://www.nycgo.com/attractions/james-a.-farley-post-office-midtown-west>.

“Members of the Board of Governors.” United States Postal Service. Web. Retrieved 7 May 2018. <https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/leadership/board-governors-bios.htm#p=1>.

Robby Reed. “The Visionary (Part 1).” Dial B for Blog. Volume One, Issue 372. Web Magazine. Retrieved 6 May 2018. <http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/372/>.

Selyukh, Alina. “As Trump Attacks Amazon-Postal Service Ties, He Fails To Fill Postal Governing Board.” National Public Radio (NPR). 3 Apr 2018. Web. <https://www.npr.org/2018/04/03/598854059/as-trump-attacks-amazon-postal-service-ties-he-fails-to-fill-postal-governing-bo>.

Various. “Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Gloom of night.” The Phrase Finder. 14 Oct 2006. Online Forum. Retrieved 29 Apr 2018. <https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/50/messages/254.html>.

Via the Associated Press. “USPS suspends mail service in large swath of Northeast.” The Boston Globe. 27 Jan 2015. Web. Retrieved 6 May 2018. <https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/01/27/mail/mCj1avGrm9yXUygD3GWWyN/story.html>.

VICE News. “Bernie Sanders Has A Plan To Save The Postal Service (HBO).” YouTube. 18 Apr 2018. Video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJDT1M0VfLw>.

News Roundup Special: What Is Going on in Syria?

news roundup, special, syria, airstrikes, chemical attack
Image Information: Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters on the current U.S. airstrikes on Syria during a joint news conference at the Pentagon, April 13, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith (via the U.S. Department of Defense)

A year ago, I talked about the decision made by Donald Trump to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase in response to a reported sarin gas attack in Al Sheikhoun in Ghouta. This year, similar events played out. On Friday, April 13, 2018, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States launched over 100 missiles on targeted sites in Syria in response to another chemical attack in Douma that reportedly happened on April 7.

According to U.S. officials, the allied forces targeted Syrian research facilities, one in Damascus and two near Homs. Defense Secretary James Mattis said this was a one-time thing, but the United States wanted to severely hamper Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to research, develop, and deploy chemical weapons.

Before this latest attack, Donald Trump expressed a reluctance to strike.

At a March 29, 2018 speech in Richfield, Ohio that the United States would “be coming out of Syria … very soon.” That same month, Trump told reporters at a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the United States was only in Syria to defeat ISIS.

On April, Trump promised he would provide a response to the reported chemical attack within 24 to 48 hours. He seemed to waver a bit, but he responded forcefully to a Russian warning of retaliation and ultimately approved the April 13 airstrike.

Before this strike was approved, there was a thundering debate about what should be done. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are in favor of an escalation in Syria. This will be part of a series of posts dealing with Syria, but right now, I want to stick to the facts and reports.


A Recap of the Events Leading up to the Strike

There is a lot of news I needed to catch up on, but here are some of the highlights in Syria since that April 2017 strike.

November 2017

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, Syria Declared Victory over ISIS as Albu Kamal, the last stronghold of the terrorist group, was captured by pro-Syrian forces. There were still side battles going on around the town and the whereabouts of some terrorist leaders (like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself caliph and last made a recording in September) was unknown. However, but the capture of Albu Kamal signaled the end of the three-year war in Syria.

January 2018

On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, then-United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to an audience hosted at Stanford University by the Hoover Institution. During his address, Tillerson outlined the ongoing U.S. policy for dealing with Syria. He announced that the United States would maintain a presence in Syria indefinitely. So far, the U.S. involvement includes some 2,000 ground troops who are there to assist Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. Tillerson also said that the United States was pushing for a peace plan that excluded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Among the concerns, the U.S. had was the Iranian presence in the war in Syria. Tillerson accused Iran of supporting Hezbollah and filtering in fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries. Iran’s presence was the driving force for continued U.S. involvement.

Another concern (which wasn’t necessarily stated by Tillerson) was U.S. cooperation with Kurdish forces in Afrin. The U.S. is allied with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) but states the YPG was not specifically involved in the fight against ISIS. Also, there was some conflict between the Pentagon and the Defense Department where the YPG was concerned; the former expressed a desire to keep working with the Kurds in Afrin while the Defense Department was noncommittal.

Complicating matters was Turkey’s stand. Turkey considers YPG a close terrorist ally of Turkey’s PKK, a Kurdish political party which has been designated a terrorist group. Earlier Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said that any action by the U.S. to help the Kurds along the Syrian-Turkish border would damage the NATO allies’ relationship beyond repair. Shortly after Cavusolgu made that statement, Turkey invaded Syria in order to take out the YPG.

February 2018

In February, a clash between mostly-Russian mercenaries and a coalition of U.S. and Kurdish forces in the Deir Ezzor region of Syrian resulted in the deaths of over 200 mercenaries. This was the largest clash between the U.S. and Russian fighters since the end of the Cold War.

According to reports, the mercenaries were approaching a base that was controlled by the U.S. The Russian government claimed to have nothing to do with the mercenaries, but they were reportedly working for a “shadowy” organization called Wagner (which is the Russian answer to Blackwater). Wagner may have been funded in part by Syria and employed to protect oil interests in the country in exchange for oil concessions.

The clash was considered a real scandal because of the sparsity of information from the Russian military. Russian analysts felt that Russia needed to provide more information and take stronger action because Russian nationals were killed in the clash.

It seems that Russia was loath to escalate with the United States, but the former said that the latter’s presence in Syria was illegal. Syria called the clash “barbaric.”

Around the same time this clash happened, Israel carried out aerial assaults against Iranian and Syrian bases after Iran shot down an Israeli F-16 near Palmyra. Six mostly Syrian fighters were killed. Israel had carried out airstrikes against Iranian and Syrian since 2015, but this was the largest clash, following the first time an Israeli plane was shot down. Israel would later be blamed for an April 9 attack that resulted in the deaths of seven Iranian soldiers.


Gas Attack History in Syria

Let’s back up a minute and look at the timeline of reported gas attacks in Syria. There have been so many reports gas attacks in the country since the civil war started in 2011, but the information surrounding each attack has differed, depending on the source.

2012-2013

From 2012-2013, there were at least 8 reported chemical attacks in Syria, with four occurring between March and April of 2013. The August 21, 2013, chemical attack near Damascus was critical, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was blamed days after the attack. At that point, American President Barack Obama was being challenged on his words from a year earlier as he told a press corps that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” and thus change his calculus in dealing with Syria.

According to U.S. intelligence at the time, as many as 1,400 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack. However, different agencies and international aid groups put the number between 200-600 casualties.

Ultimately, President Obama decided against a strike in Syria. He was derided for not putting his foot down, but when given the chance, Congress voted against a strike.

Who’s Chemical Weapons?

In May 2013, the United Nations’ independent commission of inquiry report concluded that there was a possibility that the “rebel” forces in Syria may have used Sarin gas. In an interview on Swiss-Italian television, Carla Del Ponte said that the commission spoke to civilians, doctors, and field hospitals in neighboring countries and found no proof that the Syrian government had used sarin. The Syrian government and the opposition had accused each other of carrying out three chemical attacks between December 2012 and March 2013: one in Homs (December), one near Aleppo (March), and one near Damascus (also in March). The independent commission’s report was separate from the investigation called for by then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, the latter of which had stalled.

Assad’s Stated Compliance

On September 17, 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad admitted that he had chemical weapons while speaking with Russia’s Channel 4 and that reaffirmed information while giving an interview for Fox News. Assad said that although he was in possession of the weapons, his military did not deploy them in an August 2013 sarin gas attack. He said it wasn’t feasible for his military to use it and they had no reason to use it since the military was advancing and it wasn’t losing the battle. Instead, Assad said the opposition could have deployed it since it had the means (he said sarin could be produced in a kitchen) and that 80%-90% of those fighting against the Syrian military was aligned with Al Qaida and other terrorists.

Assad said that he was joining the Chemical Weapons Convention and getting rid of his stockpile. However, he said it would take over a year, cost at least $1 billion, and harm the environment. When asked if Obama should trust him, Assad said, Obama shouldn’t, but it was important that the Syrian people were able to trust their president.

Throughout the second half of the interview, Assad was asked how he would respond to hypothetical scenarios, like what would happen should the Syrian government win the war or if Russia decided to stop supporting Assad. The Syrian president consistently stressed that it was up to the Syrian people to decide what happened to the country politically.

The interview was conducted by Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Fox News’ Greg Palkot. You can see Parts 1 and 2 below:

Doubts About Assad’s Guilt?

In a long-form article for the London Review of Books, Seymour M. Hersh discussed the events surrounding and following the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack near Damascus. As Hersh suspected, Obama’s decision not to launch a strike in Syria might have been influenced by contradictory intelligence.

According to a former intelligence officer who talked to Hersh, there were people within the U.S. intelligence community who were loath to increase the United States’ involvement in Syria, let alone send troops there. They were wary of the costs and the level of effort required and they had intelligence that told them that militants had the capability to make and use sarin gas.

Also, while the IC’s ability to pick up encrypted communications from the Syrian military was severely limited, the sensors the IC had in Syria to warn them of chemical manufacturing by the military did not indicate their production by Syrian forces close to the August 21 attack. The sensors did pick up an exercise by the Syrian military that involved chemicals, but it may have been just that: an exercise, which most other militaries do.

The intelligence briefings for August 20-23, 2013 did not indicate an advanced warning of the chemical attack, namely by the Syrian government. Still, the Obama administration fudged intelligence reports to push a narrative that supported the notion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible. The press played along because it only reported from government reports that supported the claim and buried all contradictory (technical) information.

Along with press outlets, some lawmakers went by what the government fed them and thus supported a military strike in Syria. Intelligence officials who supported some action against Assad also relied on news reports (they had informed) and social media to support their intelligence.

2017

The reported gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun was a critical moment in the young Trump administration. A few days after that suspected sarin gas attack occurred, Trump made the decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles on targets at the Shayrat air base. Few injuries were initially reported, and no major damage was done to the air base.

In September, the joint investigation conducted by the United Nations and An Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that the Syrian Air Force was responsible for the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun that was carried out on April 4, 2017. The same report also concluded that an airstrike by the United States on a mosque complex in March 2017 was illegal.

In the Syrian government’s defense: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has maintained that he did not order a gas attack, referring to an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia under which Assad was to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. Also, Russia said that the Syrian military hit a chemical weapons factory, which caused the gas to be released.

In the U.S.’s defense: The U.S. said that it was targeting Al Qaida militants in the village of Jinah and that the response was proportional.

A Contradiction?

On Friday, January 30, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that there was no proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used Sarin gas on his own people in April 2017. However, Mattis said that there was proof that Assad had chemical weapons and used them during the Syrian War.

The previous day (Thursday, January 29, 2018), Trump’s administration accused Assad of using “new kinds of weapons” to deliver deadly chemical attacks. Administration officials also said that said that Trump had not ruled out military action in Syria and the United States would look for ways to hold the users of chemical weapons accountable.

2018

On April 7, 2018, there was a reported chemical attack in Douma, a town in eastern Ghouta. Initial reports put the death toll at 150, but the number was placed at 76 dead and over 1,000 affected. The types of chemicals used in the attack were not immediately identified, but a mix of chlorine and sarin was suspected.

The area that was reportedly hit was one of the last opposition-held strongholds in Syria, as it was controlled by Jaish al-Islam. Days later, the group and civilians were evacuated from the area.


Inspections

It should be noted that inspections by an international team were scheduled the day before the allied strikes took place. But some time afterward, the inspectors were being held back by the Russians and the Syrian government. The Russians claimed that the U.N. team didn’t have proper clearances, then claimed security concerns. Inspectors were only able to walk away with samples from Douma around April 21.


Russia and Syria’s Claims

Was this a real chemical attack? Weeks before, Russian officials warned of a “false-flag” event.

On Tuesday, March 13, 2018, Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, said that Russia had information that “rebels” were planning a fake chemical attack in eastern Ghouta. In turn, Gerasimov said that the United States would use that fake attack as a pretext for launching more strikes for targets in Syria; specifically, the United States might target the government quarter in Damascus, where Russian military advisers, Russian military police, and Russian ceasefire monitors are working. Gerasimov said that if any strikes threatened or harmed any Russian military personnel that Russia would launch a counterattack and seek retaliation.

Shortly after the April 7, event, Russia and Syria said that the attack was “fabricated.”

Are they right? Well …

The only proof we had of the April 7 chemical attack didn’t come from conventional news reports but from social media streams after the fact and information given to the U.S. from the White Helmets. There were videos showing part of a used rocket in a house and those of panicked people being splashed with water. The video of the people being treated was later authenticated.


Are We Leading Up the World War III?

Everyone’s fear is that one wrong move by the most powerful nations could lead to World War III. That was a thought that crept into my head after last year’s strikes and this one, but things calmed down somewhat when the smoke settled. However, the continued presence of the United States in Syria and its stance on Iran promise to inflame tensions in the Middle East and to kick off other events that contribute to a vicious cycle.

There are numerous regional and geopolitical concerns, even if the Syrian government ultimately prevails.

  • The West opposes Assad’s continued leadership.
  • The West also opposes Russia’s involvement in Syria. The U.K. has recently got involved following the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. That poisoning was immediately blamed on the Kremlin.
  • Stateless Kurds are being assaulted by Turkey and their brethren in Iraq are also being threatened.
  • Syria and Iran will have to deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the United States supports the latter.
  • Although France got involved, Macron has expressed a desire for the United States to keep the Iranian Nuclear Deal intact. That deal was already being threatened by Donald Trump, but now Iran’s president is striking a defiant tone. In mid-April, Hassan Rouhani declared that his country would build any weapon it saw fit in order to defend itself.

I don’t know if this will eventually lead to a full-scale war, but it means that there will be prolonged battles in the foreseeable future.


Until Next Time …

This is the end of my news-sharing portion. The other Syria posts will be mostly opinion, but I will include some more research I did on this topic.

Famous Sayings: #102 — ‘No Spring Chicken’

April 29, 2018

Back in my day, I would have jumped over that picket fence, but I’m no spring chicken.

no spring chicken, famous sayings
Image via Flickr by mattandrubydavis. Some rights reserved.

It’s spring and I have three big posts coming up, so I’d wanted to make things easier for myself and find a quick phrase to look at this week. This phrase may be familiar to anyone past the age of 30, although it isn’t used very often. It has a negative connotation, although it can be self-effacing.

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Famous Sayings: #101 — The Three R’s: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

April 22, 2018

Remember the Three R’s: Recycle, reduce, and reuse.

The Three Rs, recycle, reduce, reuse, famous sayings, Earth Day

This is going to be a photo finish, but it’s still Earth Day where I am. And because it’s Earth Day, I wanted to look at a phrase that’s connected to the occasion.

Many of us may have fist heard the Three R’s (recycle, reduce, reuse) as kids. If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase because there were occasional or seasonal readings and teachings about the environment in at least one of your classes.

That said, I wonder when the phrase “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse” was first used. I remember when I was first aware of it (in the 1990s), but is it older than I think?

From my brief research, environmental concerns (and activities like recycling) existed long before the flurry of environmental legislation in the United States during the 1970s, but that era is interesting to look at anyway.

But first, let’s look at the meaning of the phrase.

Continue reading “Famous Sayings: #101 — The Three R’s: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse”