Voice of Sanity – February 2017


Piedmont Humanists

Membership: adults $24/year

Seniors/students $15/year

Editor: Joyce Bates

All correspondence to:



Regular mail:

Piedmont Humanists

3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135

Greenville, SC. 29615

February 2017


The Voice of Sanity


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The Sunday meeting: There is a meet and greet 10:00AM to 10:45AM

At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM

Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.

There is a business meeting at the 11:00 time on the first Sunday of every month.

Dates for the Sunday meetings are: Febuary 5th, 12th, 19th. And 26th


For those new to Humanism a discussion group will meet 10:00AM Sunday February 19th Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville


The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM February 9th and 23rd. (Thursday) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I85. 


The Freethought trivia and pool group will meet at Friar’s Tavern,

1178 Woodruff Road, Greenville, SC 29607.

Meetings will be held 7:00 to 10:00PM on February 2nd and 16th. 


February 11th: Second Saturday Brunch will be at10:00AM at the Golden Corral, 3240 North Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC 29609.


February 11th: DARWIN DAY CELEBRATION will be at 4:00PM at the Canebrake Clubhouse, Kings Mountain Drive at Saratoga Drive, Greer, SC


February 25th,   Saturday: Adopt-a-Highway cleanup will start at 9:00AM

Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville





                                      A BRIEF HISTORY OF SYRIA


Since our election in November Syria’s civil war has been relegated to the back pages of most news outlets. The Syrian government and representatives of rebel forces have met in Astana, Kazakhstan to strengthen the cease fire but after opening ceremonies both sides left and did not meet face to face again. Meanwhile, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have announced a plan for continuance of the cease fire and urged Syria to participate in UN talks toward a political solution.


A short 100 year history of the region appears below. This background can serve to help us understand the present state of events for Syria. The history describes not just a single country’s struggle for a relatively peaceful and productive existence, but the changing conditions for an entire region of the Middle East over the past century.  


ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Sha’am.  Sha’am is the 19th century word for Greater Syria an area that stretched along the Eastern Mediterranean from the Sinai Peninsula to the Turkish border. In 1914 it included the states of Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The common language spoken was Arabic. The religion was predominantly Muslim mostly Sunni with a minority of Shi’a. A Shi’a sect of Alawi existed in the mountains on the Turkish border and in the extreme south. Desert areas were occupied by Bedouins. Otherwise, the territory was about 20 percent Christian located mostly in the Maronite community of Mount Lebanon. There were many Jewish communities as well.


In 1918 and at the end of World War I the entire area came under the control of British and French troops and three different factions came into being. The British and French factions were reluctant to allow the territories to obtain their own independence. The two entered into what became known as the Sykes-Picot agreement. This was a secret plan to divide the area into French and British colonial territories.


The second faction comprised the Zionists. Zionism came into being in the 1880s and grew as a movement with the goal of establishing a state in Biblical Palestine. At the end of the World War the Jewish population in the area stood at about ten percent. The British were supportive of Zionism and the British foreign secretary to Damascus, Lord Arthur Balfour officially pledged support for the Jewish endeavor.


The third group in the trilogy was led by Emir Faisal who was son of Sharif Hussein, the independent ruler of the Hejaz and direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammad. The Hejaz was a domain covering the western Arabian Peninsula, containing the cities of Mecca and Medina, and considered the political and religious center of the Arab world. Faisal’s goal was to establish an Arab state stretching from Turkey to the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabs set up a National Congress aiming toward a decentralized constitutional monarchy with Faisal as king.


But at the end of the war the Allies set up two mandates in the occupied area. The French Mandate included Syria, Lebanon, part of southern Turkey, and an area bordering the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee known as the Golan Heights. The British were awarded control of Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq. Faisal, after his failure to establish Syrian independence turned his attention to Iraq and sought the help of the British to successfully acquire the throne there.


France further divided the Syrian Mandate into districts that reflected their different ethnicities. All these borders impeded trade and split up extended families and their property holdings. Workers were forced to cross them daily to get to their places of employment. There was much migration from rural to urban areas and much Westernization because of the French influence. This was offensive to traditional Sunni Muslims.


Meanwhile the Syrian middle classes and landowners pressed again for independence from the French. This was not for a truly democratic government but to have better control of political and trade issues. By 1936 they finally achieved their goal but with concessions. They had to recognize Lebanon as a separate state. They also had to accept a three year probation during which the French would have authority on all decision making and be allowed to maintain garrisons in the Alawi and Southern districts for five years. By the time the three years were up Europe was embroiled in another world war and the constitution was suspended.


Ba’athism was born in the aftermath of World War II. It became established as an altruistic movement bringing medicine and education to Syria’s rural areas. It soon turned into a political movement headed by two idealistic Syrians, Michel Aflaq, a Greek Orthodox Christian and Sarah al-Din a Sunni Muslim. Educated abroad they had hoped to gain enough votes to break the power of rich landowners, but failed. Politics would again remain in the hands of monopolies and favored government employees instituted by the French. Syria finally gained independence in 1947 but retained this old elite political structure. Lebanon also became an independent nation at the same time. But both countries had border and ethnic ties with Palestine which would now become a permanent nucleus of unrest.


Although the United Nations tried to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states it only managed to terminate its British Mandate. The Palestinian Jewish community, the Yishuv was overwhelmingly composed of immigrants from Europe, many of them refugees from Hitler’s Germany and the lands of the Holocaust. Genocide had wiped out European Jewish communities that had dated back centuries, killing a total of six million people. Among the survivors, many Jews who previously had no Zionist sympathies fled to Palestine after other countries- including Britain and the US shut their doors.


On the 14th of May in 1948, the same day the last British forces left Palestine and after a great deal of fighting between factions the Jewish People’s Council of the Yishuv met to proclaim the existence of the State of Israel. The fighting escalated into the Israeli/Arab war. In the end Palestine was sectioned into territories following an uneasy armistice in1949. Egypt got control of the Gaza strip bordering the Mediterranean just north of the Sinai Peninsula; Jordan got the West Bank on its border with Palestine; and Syria remained in control of the Golan Heights, the strip of land along the Sea of Galilee that it had originally held. The remainder of Palestine was recognized as Israel.


The Cold War became a presence in the Middle East beginning with the 1950s. Syria vacillated between sides seeking to find security where it could. Britain signed pacts with Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan in an alignment against the USSR, but Syria was left out. When Abdul Nasser gained control of Egypt and nationalized the Suez Canal to pay the debt for the Aswan Dam, Egypt and Syria united to create the United Arab Republic. Both accepted support from the USSR. Syria experienced its first coup in 1949 and came under military rule. It wasn’t long, however, before the Syrian elite became disillusioned when its communist style five year land reform plan failed, producing more unrest and a second military coup. The UAR was dissolved and the country again realigned itself with the West.


Although the Golan Heights was technically part of Syria at this time much of its water flowed into Israel and that country could not tolerate interference or reduction of the supply. Unfortunately, the conduit system became a constant target for guerilla sabotage. At the same time Egypt and Jordan were building their military systems as a show of Arab unity with Syria against Israel. This buildup of force incited rather than suppressed action and in 1967 the Israelis launched the Six Day War immobilizing both Jordan’s and Egypt’s forces and taking control of the Golan Heights. Egypt helped Syria in a second attempt to gain the area in 1973 but this also failed. The US by this time was more interested in hammering out agreements with the oil rich Arab countries but Syria, Iraq, and eventually Iran were left out of the these negotiations.


It was in 1970 in the midst of the Israeli/Arab conflicts that the Syrian Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad saw his opportunity to gain power. He directed the military to occupy all Syrian political party offices and organizations. The next day he assumed control of the government and retained it for the next thirty years. Assad’s new government drifted toward dictatorship. Although he brought running water, electricity, and affordable credit to farmers, his regime declared the Ba’th party the only legal party of Syria and the best government contracts went to those whom he favored. The secret police (mukhabarat) inspired fear everywhere because of its protection from judicial oversight.


Hafez interfered frequently with Lebanese affairs of state and both openly and secretly supported the Arab side of the Palestinian/Israeli turmoil. After Israel was established many Palestinians became permanent refugees in Lebanon. The situation worsened when the Palestinian Liberation Organization was driven out of Jordan and settled in the Lebanese immigrant areas making Beirut their center of operations. Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist militant group supported by Iran became active at this time also. Fighting erupted again in 1987 over Palestinian protests of Israeli occupation in the West Bank, and Gaza.


This time Israel drove the armed conflict deeply back into South Lebanon. Hafez helped broker the peace, tentatively established in 1993 but allowed sanctuary and support of the terrorists in his own country. He also maintained a military presence in Lebanon but he never established an agreement with Israel over the Golan Heights. He died in 2000 and was succeeded by his son Bashar.


When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003 Syria’s trade with Saddam Hussein ended. This trade included several billion dollars obtained from the sale of illegal arms and a steady supply of Iraqi oil. The stoppage severely impeded the Syrian economy. In the same year the Bush administration passed the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese restoration Act. This required Syria to close its terrorist facilities, to stop supplying troops and arms to Iraq, and to withdraw its entire military force from Lebanon.


In 2009 sixty-five percent of Syria’s population was under twenty-five. Most had an education but could find no work, and unemployment was growing. The country remained for the most part a cash-based economy. For the first time in fifty years a private bank finally opened its doors. A stock exchange had been nonexistent until 2009.


The civil war began in 2011 when some school children were arrested in a southern Syrian town and taken to Damascus where they were interrogated and possibly tortured. Their crime was writing graffiti on the walls of a school that suggested the fall of the regime. They ranged in age from nine to fifteen. Demonstrations were put down with force and the foreign press was banned. Finally all out fighting began when gunfire was directed at the security forces.


As the violence spread people fled to other areas of the country and finally abroad. Since 2011 about eleven million have left their homes. Over six and a half million have been displaced internally. Over four and a half million have gone to Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. Lebanon has been host to one million in addition to its permanent population of Palestinian refugees. One million have requested asylum in Europe.


The free Syrian Army was established by deserting officers of the National Armed Forces. Their aim was to bring down the Assad government but they were poorly disciplined and riddled with infighting. Other armed militant groups joined in on the fight but the lack of coordination and leadership caused it to lose members to either ISIS or ISIL.



Syria, John McHugo, 2014, The New Press

Among the Ruins, Christian C. Sahner, 2014, Oxford University Press






                          A SURVEY OF SURVEYS IN THE US FOR 2016


On January 1st The Washington Spectator a small monthly publication done by the Public Concern Foundation printed a survey of polls of American opinion. The survey was completed about the time of the election in 2016. The resulting statistics from questions asked by the Pew Foundation, the Gallup Poll and other surveys are described below.


One was an overall view done by WSJ/NBC taken right after the election. It addressed issues that Americans considered important at that time. Those who expressed no opinion do not appear in the table below:

Lower the cost of student loans: 

For: 82 percent            against: 18 percent

Increase spending on infrastructure

            For: 75 percent            against: 25 percent

Raise the hourly minimum wage to $12

            For: 66 percent            against: 34 percent

Address climate change by eliminating carbon emissions

            For: 59 percent            against: 41 percent

Raise the social security age to 69.

            For: 33 percent            against: 66 percent



Further surveys have consistently shown that when it comes to government spending Americans regardless of age, political philosophy, party identification, sex or income level were united in their opinion of campaign spending. Eighty percent of those surveyed by Gallup earlier in 2016 wanted strict limits on this kind of spending. This corresponded with 75 percent found in a New York Times/CBS poll run about the same time.


There obviously has been a gigantic turn around in the thinking of Americans about Gay marriage. In 1996 sixty-eight percent of the country was in opposition to gay marriage. As late as 2004, Gay marriage was being used as a “wedge” issue to drive up voting by evangelicals. By 2013 not a decade later 54 percent crossed over to favoring marriage and in 2016 those in favor had risen to 61 percent, a complete swing in attitude from negative to positive.


Health care was an issue that produced some peculiar statistics. It is true that the bulk of the Affordable Care Act was opposed by 58 percent of Americans during its debut but the reasons behind the opposition were not explained. In 2013 forty three percent of Americans were against the bill because it was too liberal, but fifteen percent opposed it because it wasn’t complete enough. Then, in 2016 Gallup created a new poll asking about support for the single payer system. In this context 58 percent were in favor of the government supported program.


Defense spending has been explored by Pew Research for many years. The 2011 poll occurred in the midst of public pressure for the withdrawal of troops from many of its consignments overseas. Although the chart below shows an increase in percentages in favor of increased spending last year, 64 percent still wanted either to keep spending the same or decrease it.





Keep spending the same

53 percent

40 percent

Cut back spending

30 percent

24 percent*

Increase spending

13 percent

35 percent

No opinion

4 percent

1 percent


100 percent

100 percent


There were other polls during the year, too. They are listed below.



 On April 15th, 2016, Gallup released results of a survey finding that 51 percent of those polled thought their taxes were too high, down from 65 percent in 2001.


Tax supported childcare:

The latest survey in 2016 by Gallup shows that 59 percent support taxes for universal childcare and pre-K programs with 26 percent opposed.


Climate change:

In 2014 fifty-nine percent of those polled by WSJ/NBC supported limiting carbon emissions.

In 2016 Gallup found the 64 percent of their respondents were greatly worried about global warming, while 36 percent worried only a little or not at all.



There has been little change in the polls here. In 1996 Pew Research found that 57 percent of Americans thought abortion should be legal either “always” or “in most cases”. In 2016 the figure was 56 percent. There is doubt whether this is a pertinent issue. In 2011 the US abortion rate fell to 16.9 per 1000 women the lowest rate since 1973 when Roe vs Wade was passed.


Gun control:

Pew research ran a poll in 2015 in which participants were forced to choose whether it was more important to control gun ownership or protect the right to own a gun. Put in this context 50 percent of participants thought controlling ownership more important and 47 percent thought protecting gun rights was more important.


Capital punishment:

In September 2016 Pew released a poll in which 49 percent of respondents favored capital punishment with 42 opposed. In 1995 the numbers were 80 percent favoring and 16 percent opposed.



The Washington Spectator, January 1st, 2017, page 1.

* Corrected percentage found at: http://www.people-press.org/files/2016/05/05-05-2016-Foreign-policy-APW-release.pdf  page 28.



More paraprosdokians:


1. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is
2. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
3. In filling out an application, where it says, “In case of emergency,
notify… ” I answered ” a doctor.”
4. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street
with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
5. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to
skydive twice.
6. I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
7. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you
hit the target.
8. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than standing
in a garage makes you a car.
9. You are never too old to learn something stupid.
10. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and
harder for me to find one now.
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