English is an interesting language in many ways. Often, the strongest words are the shortest. There is the infamous quote of Bill Clinton about “it depends on what ‘is’ is…”. A similarly strong tiny word is “if”. Then we have “but” and “lie” in the next scale up. Once you know what “is” and “if” are all about, you can move on to “but” and “lie” which come along shortly after. Every 3 year old knows this. “Is my toy!” “No!” “Not Me”. “But Mom…”
Sometime later we learn about “hope” and “fear”.
4 letters and higher concepts. We no longer are limited to “is” and “not”. We have hope it might be some day and fear it will not be.
Eventually we work our way up the ladder of length to words like “deception” where there is a deliberation before the lie and a planned anticipated outcome. Not a mere “Not Me!” but a “Johnny made me steal the cookies!”.
Eventually we work our way up to even longer words and sometimes whole phrases:
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
“Peace in our time!”
“Human Rights Commission” and “UN International Panel on Climate Change” where the deception is hidden in the void nature of the words actually used. A small cabal is usually in control, not the whole international world, and it is attempting to do anything BUT the implied charter of the name. Essentially the whole of the truth is hidden in the emptiness and the actual words contain nearly nothing, and what is there is largely a distraction. We have perfect deception.
In the end, we label this various ways internally, depending on the effectiveness of the deception employed by the counter-party. We divide into those who bought the lie and are “useful idiots” for the promoter of it, and those who did not buy the lie where we are a bit more limited on terse nouns.
From “reactionaries” in the Communist dialect, to “skeptics” in the world of “Climate Science” (where ‘climate science’ ought to be named “Climate Political Advocacy Fog Machine”). Or “subversives” or a hundred and one other terms for “you did not buy into my story” from the political class in charge.
We dearly need a single common shared word for those of us who are not “The Kings Men” and state that “The Emperor Has No Clothes!”. “Realist” has too much baggage from other lies employing it. Similarly “centered” and “unbiased” and even “honored opposition” have too much baggage as well. Perhaps it is just my failing in not already knowing just such a word. Or perhaps it is the worst lie of all: the complete LACK of a word for a commonly needed thought, the lie of omission from the language. (Many times there has been a perfectly fine word for a thing, that gets corrupted and trashed by those with a political agenda, leaving a void in the language. From “gay” that used to mean carefree and happy and now means entirely overburdened with sexual ‘cares’ and anything but happy in a non-PC world, to “Freedom of speech” that now means “only if PC enough and in keeping with Dear Leader’s latest rules”; the history of the language is awash in language corruption. So what are we, really, who stand against the Emperor and refuse to bend to the Language Police and the Thought Police? I style myself a “Surly Curmudgeon” as it evokes an emotional state I rather like, but what is the neutral term? I am it, yet I can not name “it”.
For now, I’ll use Missourians. (There is a historical phrase / stereotype in the American culture that was encapsulated in a phrase a half century ago. One I’ve not heard in decades: “I’m from Missouri. SHOW me.” The image was of a person who believed no words, only what they themselves had seen and touched.) Anyone with a better term, speak up!
So in my paradigm, the world divides into Deceivers, Useful-Idiots, and Missourians. Perhaps with honorable mention for “Clueless out of touch” for many… In normal life, outside TV Hucksters selling us miracle anti-blemish cream and spray on weather sealer, most of us are blissfully able to ignore deceivers. We buy our shirts and soaps and foods and watch fluff-TV and work doing something not too challenging and that’s about it. Deception often gets a rapid “put down” and we move on.
But two fields in particular stand out as spectacularly dependent on deception. Politics and the Military. I have a wonderful book on the “camoufleurs” of W.W.II that tells their story. It was a State Secret until not that long ago. In one case, an entire German Army was persuaded to retreat from a river by a few sound trucks. The British are experts at deception and in many ways the Allies won W.W.II because of the deception employed. Consider the audacity of being on one side of a river, with an army of opposition on the other, and your defense is sound trucks issuing the noises of a tank division moving into position, shutting down, and troops doing what they do; backed up only by some planned radio transmissions, a bit of creative theatre on the ground with some inflatable tanks, and ‘dispatches’ from HQ far far away. A single big recon party could have put the lie to the whole thing and then the entire front would have been lost – these folks were filling an ‘unfillable gap’ in the line of attack of a major operation. Instead, the Germans withdrew their vastly superior tanks and army…
The major lesson of such things is that deception works. Often spectacularly. Since politicians get to claim glory (they never accept the blame, though, that belongs to the next tier below them…) for such wins, they too come to love deception. So joined at the hip as they are, politicians and the military both share one fundamental truth: You have no idea what the truth really is in any action.
Which brings me to the actual topic that started all this. The bombing of a Syrian air base because “they used chemical weapons” and in particular, Sarin gas.
Now there are several problems with the line of causality for a Missourian. None of those problems mean Syria did NOT use chemical weapons, but it does mean it is important to state “I do not KNOW.”
Listening to the general news, more or less globally (mostly the USA, Arab / Sunni bundle, EU, UK, and some hangers on) you would think it was absolutely clear to everyone that “Syria did it” and that “Syria used Sarin”. Yet inspection of the known knowns yields only that “Syria dropped SOME KIND of bomb” and “Subsequently folks where injured by SOME kind of nerve agent”. What is the void? What are the missing links in this chain of reason? (Having learned this process of thought in Geometry Class where every single step had to be proven, perhaps “Geometers” would be a better term than Missourians, but few folks would understand it ‘upon casual inspection’…)
Well, Russia Today RT had clue. I’d already thought the same thing myself, but it was nice to see SOMEONE, ANYONE point it out. It is quite possible that the Rebels had a stockpile of some nerve agent and the Syrian bomb simply let it loose. We know the Rebels are gathering all the munitions they can. We know Syria bombed a ‘munitions dump’. We know that the Rebels have controlled large areas in the past, so had opportunity to collect munitions of all sorts. We know that Rebels (“insurgents”) in Iraq used a ‘binary gas shell’ in a roadside attack on US troops (though didn’t ‘get it’ about binary weapons so just blew it up likely preventing effective mixing to make the sarin – resulting in little real injury).
2004: Iraqi insurgents detonated a 155 mm shell containing binary precursors for sarin near a U.S. convoy in Iraq. The shell was designed to mix the chemicals as it spun during flight. The detonated shell released only a small amount of sarin gas, either because the explosion failed to mix the binary agents properly or because the chemicals inside the shell had degraded with age. Two United States soldiers were treated after displaying the early symptoms of exposure to sarin.
So there is precedent for rebels gathering and using such munitions. All in all, minus some evidence to the contrary, it is a plausible line of events that Syria might have just bombed, with a conventional bomb, somewhere with a stockpile of some gas weapons (or even just one such.)
Which leads us to “IF”.
IF the USA has some kind of inside information that this was absolutely a Syrian gas attack, then the bombing of the air base is a perfectly reasonable response.
But that “IF” is a mighty large word.
Which leads us to “BUT”.
BUT if there is no such information, then it is quite plausible that the USA just bombed a sovereign government attempting to regain control of their country from a violent rebel group who was gathering and likely planning to use chemical weapons in an attack.
Which leads us to “Lie”.
Who benefits? Who would want the lie? Gee, the USA just acted as the ISIS Air Force and took out the air base that was bombing them. They have a known behaviour of using civilians as political leverage. “Human Shields” (that really are not shields, they are political cost escalators.) It would be a pretty easy reach for them to think “Hey, let’s put some gas canisters where Syria might bomb, then shout ‘Chemical Attack From Damascus!!!’ if it happens!”. If they had not done that this time, they will certainly be looking now to gather all the chemicals they can to salt the rest of their depots…
Which leads us to “Hope”.
So now we are hoping our President did the “right thing” and was not mislead. We Hope he has accurate and complete intelligence well beyond what is in the public sphere that shows beyond any doubt the Syrian aircraft was carrying a chemical bomb.
“But hope is not a strategy. -E.M.Smith”
We also hope that POTUS Trump was not taken in by a deception campaign and we hope that he realizes the successful use of the USA as the ISIS Air Force (even if for Valid Reasons) will now be a strong inducement to ISIS to plant chemical tanks at every important target.
Which leads us to “Fear”.
But I fear neither of those is true. Yet “I don’t know”. As a simple citizen I have zero access to all the information needed to know what really happened. So the only thing I can say in truth is “I do not know”. Yet what I can know is about the nature of the problem.
Again, from the Wiki:
Sarin is an organophosphorus compound with the formula [(CH3)2CHO]CH3P(O)F.
Like all other nerve agents, sarin attacks the nervous system by interfering with the degradation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions. Death will usually occur as a result of asphyxia due to the inability to control the muscles involved in breathing function.
Specifically, sarin is a potent inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase,
Its mechanism of action resembles that of some commonly used insecticides, such as malathion. In terms of biological activity, it resembles carbamate insecticides, such as Sevin, and the medicines pyridostigmine, neostigmine, and physostigmine.
The most important chemical reactions of phosphoryl halides is the hydrolysis of the bond between phosphorus and the fluoride. This P-F bond is easily broken by nucleophilic agents, such as water and hydroxide. At high pH, sarin decomposes rapidly to nontoxic phosphonic acid derivatives. The initial breakdown of sarin is into isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (IMPA), a chemical that is not commonly found in nature except as a breakdown product of sarin (this is useful for detecting the recent deployment of sarin as a weapon). IMPA then degrades into methylphosphonic acid (MPA), which can also be produced by other organophosphates
The key point here is that there is a large family of things that act on that pathway and act as ‘nerve agents’. Sarin is but one of many.
“Organophosphates” are widely used as pesticides. It is hard to tell one from another by any simple observation as they act on the same pathways. It takes a chemical test of some kind to narrow things down.
Basically, anyone with some good chemical knowledge can make Sarin or things like it. Anyone who has worked in a technical capacity in a pesticide factory has the skills. The world is full of pesticide factories.
But, “is it Sarin?” really needs some proving too.
The images from the ground showed the victims being washed with running water. That breaks down sarin. Now you have started a timer as the breakdown products themselves break down. Who applied the testing kits to detect sarin and not some other organophosphate? How was this curated and what chain of custody got that information from ‘on the ground’ in rebel held territory into the hands of our POTUS?
Near as I can tell, no such tests were done, or even possible, and no pathway to communicate that information to the POTUS exists. Certainly not one that can work in a couple of days. Certainly not one with proper chain of custody from bombing site to POTUS.
So we are in the “fog of war”. Which leaves us back at “Hope” and “Fear” and “Deception”.
All we Missourians can do is Hope that the POTUS has enough information to have avoided a strong potential of a Deception, but I Fear we are not in possession of anywhere near enough information to have avoided that. Yet I Know that as of now, any reasonably aware Rebel / Insurgent / Jihadi will be thinking that all he needs to do to get a Great Air Force onside is collect a few drums of organophosphates and put them in likely target areas.
In the end, a Geometer Missourian often finds themselves in the “outside” group. The “in group” patting each other on the back, looking askance at the “loner” who isn’t “on the team”. It is one of the essential costs of keeping a tidy mind.
Why? (Another of those great short words, along with “when” and “where” and “how” and “who” and “what” and…)
Well, it seems that very few people are willing to do the work to keep a tidy mind. It IS a lot of work. Further, the Deceivers know this and attempt to levy a large social cost employing the Useful Idiots onto anyone who asks the wrong questions (or just asks any questions sometimes…). Between the Deceivers who often wield a lot of power and the Useful Idiots who happily do almost anything asked of them as long as they need not think about it, there isn’t a lot of space left for the Skeptics and nearly none for the Missourians. Less still for the Geometers where even seeing isn’t believing as we demand to go ‘behind the curtain’ on the magic show…
So once again I’m left with hope, fear, and perhaps my one solace;
the “Dig Here!”…
Over time it may be possible to get the truth out of this event in Syria. For now, everyone else is enjoying the “gone to war!” party. Democrats even heaping (with a baby spoon…) tepid praise on The Donald for finally doing something almost right per Assad. EUropeans joyful at the thought of overturning Assad and smacking lips over the tiff between POTUS Trump and Putin in the making. “Maybe we CAN maneuver this guy to where we want him!” dripping from every grin.
But when the truth comes out, will anyone notice?…
Not the Deceivers. Certainly not the Useful Idiots. Most of the Missourians will be on to something else. The few that notice will likely just cluck a tongue and say “Well, I thought so.” and move on.
When the truth is not knowable, the only thing a reasonable person can do is to say “I do not know”, and do nothing.
But politics is rarely about the reasonable.
Even now, there are folks touting this as “good to have done” in any case as it “shows the world” the USA is back, and it will “make the N. Koreans think twice” and so many more “ends justify the means” piles of steaming praise…
And perhaps it is.
I hope so.