FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 11th through 15th 2019

FOD Saying of the Day

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. – William Shakespeare

FOD Trivia Question of the Day

What was the first planet discovered by use of a telescope in 1781?

Previous FOD Trivia Answer

Name the famous ballet Russian dancer who is considered to have changed the face of modern ballet. Answer – Rudolf Nureyev.

 

Two USN Destroyers Conduct FONOPS in South China Sea

It’s important to maintain continuous pressure on China regarding their claims in the South China Sea and in particular since several other nations maintain claims to territories in the South China Sea.  As I pointed out in the last edition of FOD China, after promising in 2015 not to militarize the South China Sea, has done exactly that with sophisticated radars, missile launchers, and some rotation of combat aircraft to the artificial islands built there by Beijing.  Navy Times is reporting Two U.S. destroyers steamed near islands in the increasingly contested South China Sea Monday (11 February) as part of a continuing effort to counter Beijing’s claim over those waters, officials confirmed.  The guided-missile destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands “in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Cmdr. Clayton Doss, spokesman for the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet, said in a statement.  These freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, are designed to challenge China’s increasingly strident assertions that shoals and islets in international waters are their territory.  China has built and fortified islands in the Spratly group, including added runways.  Monday’s FONOP focused on Mischief Reef, an atoll east of the Spratly group that China has expanded into an island and equipped with runways, hangars and other military facilities, according to satellite images.  Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim the reef.  The Navy’s FONOPs are a delicate dance for both sides, with American officials expressing concerns that miscalculations could lead to military escalation.  The guided-missile destroyer Decatur nearly collided with an onrushing Chinese warship last fall during a similar FONOP.  Doss said Monday’s FONOP followed international law and that U.S. forces routinely operate in international waters and airspace.  “The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said. “That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.”  “FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements,” Doss added.  This latest FONOP took place less than a month after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson traveled to Beijing and Nanjing to meet with his Chinese counterparts, part of an effort to get China’s leaders to abide by international law and slow territorial claims over the South China Sea and other international flash points.  “As we manage these differences and continue to operate in each other’s company in the South China Sea and increasingly around the world…we’ve got to behave in ways that don’t make this more of a tense situation,” the Associated Press quoted Richardson as saying.  Two U.S. warships sailed through the Strait of Taiwan last month in another effort to show the Chinese that they intend to keep such disputed waters international.  China expressed “stern complaints” to the United States after a similar FONOP in January, the AP reported.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Chinese planes and ships were deployed to prod the guided-missile McCampbell to leave waters around its islands as they were sailing without China’s permission.  “Relevant actions by U.S. vessels violate Chinese and international laws, infringe on China’s sovereignty, and undermine peace, stability and good order in relevant waters,” the AP quoted Lu as saying.

 

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FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 8th through 10th 2018

FOD Saying of the Day

“Great leaders are great servants because the only way of setting an example is by demonstrating an example. Service to mankind is the key to true leadership!”
― Israelmore Ayivor

FOD Trivia Question of the Day

Name the famous ballet Russian dancer who is considered to have changed the face of modern ballet.

Previous FOD Trivia Answer

Who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?  Answer – The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art.  The entire ceiling is a fresco, which is an ancient method for painting murals that relies upon a chemical reaction between damp lime plaster and water-based pigments to permanently fuse the work into the wall.  Michelangelo had been an apprentice in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of the most competent and prolific of Florentine fresco painters, at the time that the latter was employed on a fresco cycle at Santa Maria Novella and whose work was represented on the walls of the Sistine Chapel.  Because he was painting fresco, the plaster was laid in a new section every day, called a giornata. At the beginning of each session, the edges would be scraped away and a new area laid down.  The edges between giornate remain slightly visible; thus, they give a good idea of how the work progressed. It was customary for fresco painters to use a full-sized detailed drawing, a cartoon, to transfer a design onto a plaster surface—many frescoes show little holes made with a stiletto, outlining the figures. Here Michelangelo broke with convention; once confident the intonaco had been well applied, he drew directly onto the ceiling. His energetic sweeping outlines can be seen scraped into some of the surfaces, while on others a grid is evident, indicating that he enlarged directly onto the ceiling from a small drawing.  The image of God in the act of Creation was painted in a single day, and reflects Michelangelo himself in the act of creating the ceiling.  To reach the chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo designed his own scaffold, a flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall near the top of the windows, rather than being built up from the floor. Mancinelli speculates that this was in order to cut the cost of timber. According to Michelangelo’s pupil and biographer Ascanio Condivi, the brackets and frame that supported the steps and flooring were all put in place at the beginning of the work and a lightweight screen, possibly cloth, was suspended beneath them to catch plaster drips, dust, and splashes of paint. Only half the building was scaffolded at a time and the platform was moved as the painting was done in stages.  The areas of the wall covered by the scaffolding still appear as unpainted areas across the bottom of the lunettes. The holes were re-used to hold scaffolding in the latest restoration.  Contrary to popular belief, he painted in a standing position, not lying on his back. According to Vasari, “The work was carried out in extremely uncomfortable conditions, from his having to work with his head tilted upwards.”  The scheme proposed by the pope was for twelve large figures of the Apostles to occupy the pendentives.  However, Michelangelo negotiated for a grander, much more complex scheme and was finally permitted, in his own words, “to do as I liked.”  His scheme for the ceiling eventually comprised some three hundred figures and took four years to execute, being completed and shown to the public on All Saints Day in 1512 after a preliminary showing and papal Mass on August 14, 1511.  It is unknown and is the subject of much speculation among art historians whether Michelangelo was really able to “do as he liked”.  t has been suggested that the Augustinian friar and cardinalGiles of Viterbo, was a consultant for the theological aspect of the work..  any writers consider that Michelangelo had the intellect, the biblical knowledge, and the powers of invention to have devised the scheme himself. This is supported by Ascanio Condivi‘s statement that Michelangelo read and reread the Old Testament while he was painting the ceiling, drawing his inspiration from the words of the scripture, rather than from the established traditions of sacral art.

 

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FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 4th through 7th 2019

FOD Saying of the Day

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  – Dr. Seuss

FOD Trivia Question of the Day

An easy one!  Who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

Previous FOD Trivia Answer

Who lived at 221B, Baker Street, London? Answer – Sherlock Holmes

 

Peace Deal or Terms of Surrender in Afghanistan

In war as in poker, you never want to tip your hand to your opponent.  President Trump criticized then President Obama for tipping his hand regarding troop withdrawals, but in fact Mr. Trump is employing the exact same strategy while engaging in peace talks that Government officials are just now acknowledging includes representatives from the Taliban.  After more than 17 years of fighting, U.S. diplomats have been working with Taliban representatives at a breakneck pace to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan, according to Military Times.  The talks appear to be driven by President Donald Trump, who is eager to close out America’s costly foreign wars.  “Fighting continues but the people of Afghanistan want peace in this never ending war,” Trump said Wednesday. “We will soon see if talks will be successful.”  Earlier this week, U.S. diplomats brought news that the Taliban had agreed to a draft peace proposal. The details are still unclear, but it could involve a U.S. troop withdrawal in exchange for the Taliban’s commitment to never again allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for international terror groups like al-Qaida.  (Fireball note: How much in that promise worth?  Remember Trump has taken the word of Putin that he never interfered in US elections and the word of Kim Jung Un that he wants to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the word of Xi Jinping that China would never install military weapons on their man-made islands in the South China Sea and that US intelligence agencies don’t know what they’re talking about.)  The peace negotiations come at a time when the Trump administration is planning for the withdrawal of about 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 U.S. forces that are currently in Afghanistan.   “People who oppose peace negotiations always argue the other side can’t be trusted,” Barnett Rubin, a former senior State Department official and Afghanistan scholar, told Military Times. “By the way, there are people who for some reason think that the U.S. can’t be trusted.”  “But that is irrelevant,” he said. “Agreements to end wars are not based on trust. That would be ridiculous. They are based on common interest, verification, monitoring, and enforcement.”  One concern with the draft deal is that the diplomatic team has yet to announce enforcement provisions, but the negotiations are not over, Rubin said, and that appears to be the team’s stance as well.  “We have a number of issues left to work out,” U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalizad said after leaving the latest round of talks. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.”  Although the final draft has yet to be inked, pundits and politicians have already weighed in. In a bipartisan vote, the Senate advanced an amendment Thursday that would oppose withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.  The legislation stated that a “precipitous withdrawal” could “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.”  Some senators opposed the amendment.  “It is ludicrous to call withdrawal after 17 years ‘precipitous,'” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a longtime critic of America’s foreign wars, said after the measure was advanced for a final vote as soon as next week.  The eagerness of officials like Trump and Paul means the U.S. is negotiating from a position of weakness, according to Thomas Joscelyn, a prominent al-Qaida and Taliban watcher and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  (Fireball note: No Shit Jack.)  “The Taliban know we’re heading for the exit,” Joscelyn told Military Times.   The U.S. has already granted them two big things: put total withdrawal on the table, and proceed to the talks without the Afghan government.”  For Joscelyn, that legitimizes the Taliban’s political clout. Their military prowess, compared to Afghan government forces, is largely without question.  “Just look at the last year, the U.S. had to bail out Afghan forces in Farah and Ghazni [cities] when they were starting to get overrun,” Joscelyn said, adding that al-Qaida players were present during the assaults. “You take the U.S. out of that equation and I think the Taliban will take provincial capitals pretty quickly.”  Joscelyn, like many others criticizing the negotiations, does not trust the Taliban’s promise to ban al-Qaida. He pointed to the group’s own statement after the meeting in Qatar, which did not include written promises to prevent international terror groups from working in Afghanistan.  “If they were going to renounce al-Qaida in writing, that would be meaningful because it’s something they’ve refused to do for 20 years,” Joscelyn said.  The international community has tried to coerce the Taliban to stop offering refuge to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida militants as far back as 1998.  “The idea that they’re going to do it now seems laughable,” he said.  But the negotiations are still underway. After all, diplomacy takes time. Officials on both sides must usher notes and drafts back and forth between their leaders at home and those with whom they are mediating. The process in Qatar could take many, many rounds of arbitration.  All the while, the battles on the ground in Afghanistan march on. Two Americans, an Army Ranger and an Army Green Beret, were killed in combat this month. In November, four troops — two Green Berets, an Air Force Special Tactics airman, and an Army infantryman — were killed by a single roadside bomb in Ghazni province, eastern Afghanistan.  Many of the U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan are special operators, trained for years to be repeatedly deployed in and out of conflict zones. During counter-insurgency operations, their lives can be ended instantly by improvised explosive devices.  But for every American killed, the Taliban surely suffer worse. U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have been at record highs, paired with fine-tuned Afghan commandos and American advisers hitting Taliban strongholds and drug labs across the wayward country.  Still, that isn’t new. The U.S. military has been fighting at a high tempo for years, regardless of troop levels, which have often fluctuated based on domestic politics.  “Negotiations ‘fail’ every day a meeting takes place and the parties don’t reach complete agreement,” Rubin said. “War ‘succeeds’ everyday somebody advances a meter or kills some enemies, but then after 17 years it can add up to nothing.”  The U.S.-aligned Kabul government, which has not been officially present at the negotiations, remains uneasy with the whole situation. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to “accept Afghan demands for peace, and enter serious talks” with his administration during a nationally televised address this week.  Many wonder whether the Taliban will negotiate at all with Ghani’s government, which the militant group has long derided as “Western puppets” in their propaganda statements.  “Everything this group has said over the years is that they’re the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and that’s the only legitimate ruling authority,” Joscelyn said. “That’s what the Taliban fighters have been fighting for. You can’t suddenly invalidate the central purpose for their war after all these years.”  But Rubin disagrees. Taliban ideology, he said, has the potential for flexibility.  “The Taliban are Deobandis, many of whom studied in Pakistani madrasas [Islamic schools] … which are headed by political leaders of various branches of the Pakistani Deobandi parties,” Rubin said. “All of these Deobandi parties, which say they have the same ideology as the Taliban, participate in parliamentary politics in Pakistan.”  And in the past, the Pakistani Deobandis have entered into coalition governments with center-right conservative and left-wing socialist political parties in Pakistan’s parliament.  “The Taliban have never had the opportunity to participate in parliamentary politics,” Rubin said, adding that its introduction to Afghanistan only came after the U.S. invasion.  Some Americans have already made up their minds. The negotiations may fail or succeed based solely on political brinkmanship within Washington. Given the Senate’s rare bipartisan showing to slow Trump’s withdrawal, it isn’t unrealistic to think U.S. policymakers may have grown too accustomed to foreign wars, far from American shores.  “The warmongering blob in D.C. says that if [six] days of negotiations fail, we need more war, but if 17 years of war fail, we need more troops,” Rubin said. “You be the judge.”  Yet others still believe the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has staved off terrorists like those who struck on Sept. 11, 2001.  “I’m not unsympathetic to people who just want to get out. I get it,” Joscelyn said. “[But] I have a problem with handing the Taliban and al-Qaida an outright victory, which is what this would be. I think there are ramifications for that within Afghanistan, and outside of it.”  As for the Taliban, an old adage reportedly told to the U.S. envoy who currently helms the negotiations with the militants may illuminate their position. As the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan during the early days of the war, Zalmay Khalilzad was once sent a direct message from the Taliban.  “You have all the watches, but we have all the time,” it read.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 4th through 7th 2019”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 30th through February 3rd 2019

FOD Saying of the Day

Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind. – Theodore Roosevelt

 

FOD Trivia Question of the Day

Who lived at 221B, Baker Street, London?

 

Previous FOD Trivia Answer

What two countries do not share a common border with Brazil?  Answer – Chile and Argentina.

 

Punxsutawney Phil Didn’t See Shadow – It Should Be An Early Spring

Following a week of frigid temperatures that gripped the Midwest, all eyes were on Pennsylvania’s famed groundhog on Saturday in hopes of signs of relief.  Thousands of people, bundled up in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, witnessed Punxsutawney Phil’s annual prediction on how long the North American winter will last on Ground Hog Day, February 02. The first Groundhog Day, in 1887featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, it gets scared and runs back into its burrow, predicting six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.  Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they’re frightened or looking for a mate (they’re sometimes called whistle pigs) and can climb trees and swim.  They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.  Ground Hog Day is celebrated in other locales as well.  Staten Island Chuck is the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City.   Chuck famously bit former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the ceremony in 2009.  Likely because when you’re out and about looking for the love of your life or even the love of the moment, you don’t want to be assaulted by the mayor of New York.  Dunkirk Dave (a stage name for numerous groundhogs that have filled the role since 1960) is the local groundhog for Western New York, handled by Bob Will, a typewriter repairman who runs a rescue shelter for groundhogs. Now I’ve got to ask myself what kind of living can you be making these days as a typewriter repairman and as an operator of a shelter for feisty rodents, generally considered a pest by farmers and golf course grounds keepers like Bill Murray.  The 1993 movie Groundhog Day helped boost recognition of the custom, and the celebration has spread even further afield. In 2009, Quebec began to mark the day (Canadian FrenchJour de la Marmotte) with its own groundhog.  In Washington, DC, the Dupont Circle Groundhog Day event features Potomac Phil, another taxidermic specimen. In addition to the spring prediction, if Potomac Phil sees its shadow, it portents six more months of political gridlock.  Only six more months – why stop there?

 

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FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 25th through 29th 2019

FOD Saying of the Day

Some Government problems are so complex that it takes high intelligence just to be undecided about them – Anonymous

FOD Trivia Question of the Day

What two countries do not share a common border with Brazil?

Previous FOD Trivia Answer

This American Civil War hero, known as Frank Thompson, fought at the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, and Fredericksburg in 1862; he also spied behind Confederate lines disguised as a female.  What was particularly unusual about Frank Thompson?   Answer – Frank Thompson was in reality Sarah Emma Edmonds.  During the Civil War, on May 25, 1861, she enlisted in Company F of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, also known as the Flint Union Greys.  On her second try, she disguised herself as a man named “Franklin Flint Thompson,” the middle name possibly after the city she volunteered in, Flint, Michigan. She felt that it was her duty to serve her country and was truly patriotic towards her new country. Extensive physical examinations were not required for enlistment at the time, and she was not discovered.  She at first served as a male field nurse, participating in several campaigns under General McClellan, including the First and Second Battle of Bull RunAntietam, the Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, and others.  Edmonds’s career took a turn during the war when a Union spy in Richmond, Virginia was discovered and went before a firing squad, and a friend, James Vesey, was killed in an ambush. She took advantage of the open spot and the opportunity to avenge her friend’s death. She applied for, and won, the position as Franklin Thompson.  Edmonds’s career as Frank Thompson came to an end when she contracted malaria. She abandoned her duty in the military, fearing that if she went to a military hospital she would be discovered. She checked herself into a private hospital, intending to return to military life once she had recuperated. Once she recovered, however, she saw posters listing Frank Thompson as a deserter. Rather than return to the army under another alias or as Frank Thompson, risking execution for desertion, she decided to serve as a female nurse at a Washington, D.C. hospital for wounded soldiers run by the United States Christian Commission.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 25th through 29th 2019”