Category: History (Page 2 of 4)

Chautauqua – Lectures by Bruce Riedel and Geffrey Kelly

Bruce Riedel: The Intelligence War with al-Qaida.In line with the Topic for Chautauqua this week (Week Three [July 10-16, 2011] — American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage, and Alliances), this morning the lecture in the Amphitheater was by Bruce Riedel, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, former CIA officer. The title of his talk was: “The Intelligence War with al-Qaida.”

While I was familiar with a fair bit of what he said, I greatly enjoyed the outline he gave for the history of al-Qaida, as well as Pakistan’s role (past and current) regarding that terrorist organization. He is a very dynamic speaker, and gave a quiet engaging talk. Made me reconsider whether we should pick the Pakistan-themed week next year. Briefly.

Some highlights (from my notes; any errors are mine):

  • Estimated that $5 Trillion has been spent on the war with al-Qaida (inc. the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). $5 Trillion!
  • Drones in Pakistan used (as “covert action” by CIA) against terrorists. Not very covert now, as everyone knows about them!
  • It is hard for al-Qaida to operate in NW Pakistan due to the drone attacks. They are terrorizing the Terrorists.
  • Last *good* intelligence about the whereabouts of bin Laden before this past year or so was NOV, 2001. As of ~JAN 2009, his trail wasn’t just cold, it was frozen over.
  • Pakistan is the new focus of al-Qaida.
  • Pakistan has the 5th largest nuclear capability in the world (after US, Russia, China, and France. The UK comes in 6th).
  • A Major “syndicate of terror” is based in Pakistan. It is also a major base for al-Qaida, and al-Qaida makes use of this Pakistani terror syndicate. The syndicate also provided support to bin Laden at his compound in Pakistain.
  • The major Pakistani Military academy is about a mile from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Very hard to believe that the Pakistani army/intelligence didn’t know anything about it.
  • If Pakistani intelligence did know about bin Laden, how can we trust them?
  • If Pakistani intelligence did NOT know about bin Laden, that’s almost worse – as is speaks volumes about their (lack of) security – and they are a nuclear state!
  • It is almost certain, however, that the civilian government of Pakistan *was clueless* about bin Laden’s whereabouts. The Pakistani army/ISI is out of their control. Did I mention that Pakistan is the 5th largest nuclear capability? That is scary.
  • al Qaida in Iraq is not defeated, but is significantly diminished.
  • Saudi Arabia drove al-Qaida out of their country, but they fled to Yemen. Now Yemen is the fastest growing al-Qaida franchise. Yemen is a failing state, with poor government, major water shortage, etc. Nevermind the uprising earlier this year…
  • Pakistan’s ISI HELPS al-Qaida (though they deny it).
  • It is al-Qaida’s ideology (that the West is leading a conspiracy against Islam and Muslim nations) that primes the terrorist movement. But the Arab Spring is in direct contradiction to this, as it is the people of those Muslim nations themselves that are rising (mostly non-violently) up against their repressive governments/dictators.
  • al-Qaida is a Sunni Muslim fanatic organization. Iran is a Shiite Muslim fanatic nation. Iran is neutral on Pakistan. Shia Iran is not a fan of Sunni al-Qaida. But sometimes the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy (America). Thus Iran and al-Qaida have a complex relationship.
  • How to help Pakistan? Trade, not Aid. Pakistani textiles (Pakistan’s chief export) are tariffed by the US at 3x the rate of other importers, like China. Best way to help Pakistan is not direct aid, but to make the tarifs more fair, and in-line with those imposed on other importing countries.
  • The best way to destroy al-Qaida is to undermine the al-Qaida narrative, so (young) Muslims *know* that America is NOT the enemy; not Imperial.

Catholic Mass was at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at 12:10. Nice to be able to go to daily Mass:

Chapel of the Good Shepherd

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” — DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

“The Costly Grace of Christian Discipleship in the Life, Writings and the Espionage Activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” was the afternoon Interfaith lecture in the Hall of Philosophy by Geffrey Kelly, Professor of Theology, LaSalle University.

I only had (have) a cursory knowledge of Bonhoeffer, and Prof. Kelly’s talk just served to make me even more interested in pursuing Bonhoeffer’s writings. I’ve been contemplating taking a course on the writings of Bonhoeffer this Fall at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. Now I’m thinking about it even more. Just have to work out the logistics, as there are two (very active) little kids at home…

Geffrey Kelly: The Costly Grace of Christian Discipleship in the Life, Writings and the Espionage Activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Highlights from the lecture (from my notes; again, any errors are mine):

  • Bonhoeffer was an ardent supporter of Operation Valkyrie – the plot to assassinate Hitler.
  • Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a crucial influence on Bonhoeffer.
  • Bonhoeffer became a Pacifist during his study at the Union Theological Seminary in NY (he was there on a Sloan fellowship). He also met his first black man there (a seminarian). Not really sure yet how to reconcile his pacifism with his support for Valkyrie…
  • Bonhoeffer denounced “Cheap Grace”, i.e. Grace obtained with no cost. This is in contrast to “Costly Grace:, which will cost us out lives (“he who loses his life will live”).
  • The drive for National Security at all costs is Idolatry
  • The Church renounces Christ when it supports war. The Church must look after ALL victims, not just fellow Christians.
  • Christians should take a stronger stand for the weak.
  • Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law was the Assistant Minister of Justice for the Nazi party. Thus, all of the letters, etc., denouncing Bonhoeffer went by him, and thus he could dispose of them before they got any further – thus protecting Bonhoeffer from the Gestapo, among others.
  • From one of Bonhoeffer’s writings: “The trouble with Germany is that they have taken in Hitler and rejected Jesus Christ.” The agents that (finally) arrested him ignored the manuscript he was working on, which was laying on a table in his rooms…the manuscript(s) survived because his niece ran upstairs, grabbed them, and buried them in the backyard.
  • Bonhoeffer was a double agent. He was ostensibly working for the Nazis, but was actually working on ways to undermine Nazi Germany.

Ants at Chautauqua
Some Ants by the side of the brick walkway between Hall of Philosophy and Amphitheater:

Our Chautauqua Digs, 2011.  Only a few blocks from...everything!

We are in the top apartment of this building. Quite nice digs! And only a few blocks from…everything!

A Day at the Natural History Museum

A couple of weekends ago Preston and I spent a nice Saturday (March 12) at the Natural History Museum, in Washington, DC. This was the first time I had been since the new “Hall of Human Origins” was opened, and we spent a good bit of time in there. Preston loved all the skeletons/skulls. And of course, he loved the dinosaur exhibits – which hadn’t changed much since last time we were there (~2 years ago). He kept going from exhibit to exhibit: “what is this one? And this one?…” until it felt like I had read every caption in the museum. But he was very happy. Naturally, we had to stop and watch every video/movie presented in the various exhibits.

Natural History Museum

I did like the Hall of Human Origins; they have a neat entrance tunnel that portrays in a repeating video-mural the evolution of Homo Sapiens from earlier hominids. And the models of the various species of hominids are very life-like. I especially liked seeing a model of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) as I had only previously seen (castings) of the (partial) skeleton. And I swear I’ve seen some specimens of Homo neanderthalensis walking among us; that model was particularly enlightening. Pictures of both are below.

This museum isn’t as hands-on as, say, the Baltimore Science Museum, but it still has enough to keep the interest of a 4-year old for most of a Saturday! Afterward we had a bite to eat at the restaurant out by the (temporary during winter) skating rink in the Sculpture gardens. Great way to end the day!

Click any of the images for a larger-size and slideshow. Enjoy!

Entrance to Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Lucy model in Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Homo neanderthalensis in Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Hall of Human Origins at Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
Great way to relax after a Day at the Museum
Watching the ice skaters at the Sculpture Garden

Edward Dolnick signing The Clockwork Universe

The Clockwork Universe Edward Dolnick was at Politics and Prose bookstore tonight giving a talk on his book, “The Clockwork Universe“. Engaging speaker and an interesting talk. My son Brandon also came along and he was surprised to find it interesting enough to come out of the cafe.

The author didn’t do a reading from the book; he spent about 20 minutes giving a very interesting overview of the historical period in which Newton and contemporaries lived. We sometimes forget that these geniuses were living in a very different world from ours today; one in which basic hygiene and knowledge of how the physical world worked was about non-existent. London of the time (around 1660) was a very dirty, disgusting place to live. It certainly didn’t help that the Plague hit London in 1666, and within a year 1/5 of the population were dead (100,000 people) Mr. Dolnick also touched on how the people of the time *really* thought of God as someone pulling all the strings all the time- nothing at all happened in the world that was not directly due to God’s intervention. Newton et al. very much were men of their times, and as such assumed that everything was due to God; they were merely trying to “read God’s mind” as it were.

Fascinating history of the start of the Royal Society, the oldest Scientific organization in the world. Ideas were being thrown around those meetings: one minute they would be discussing whether or not a spider placed inside a circle of “unicorn dust” could leave the circle and the next they would be discussing astronomy and the orbits of planets. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!



Edward Dolnick talking at Politics and Prose, 2/26/2011

Edward Dolnick talking at Politics and Prose, 2/26/2011

Edward Dolnick talking at Politics and Prose, 2/26/2011

Edward Dolnick talking at Politics and Prose, 2/26/2011

Maya Calendar for September 25, 2010

2012 Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya (showing glyph date on left)

2012 Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya (showing glyph date on left)

2012 Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya Last Saturday I went to an all-day symposium, “Under Cover of Darkness: The Meaning of Night in Ancient Mesoamerica” sponsored by the Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, D.C. While there, Professor Mark Van Stone was signing copies of his book, “2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya. What was really neat is that he signed my copy by writing the current date in Maya glyphs. Really neat!

maya date glyphs

maya date glyphs

Author roundtable with Catherine Asaro, Greg Bear, etc.

Tonight I went to a booksigning and a panel of SF authors at Reiter’s Scientific Bookstore in DC. Among the authors present were: Dr. Catherine Asaro, Greg Bear, Bud Sparhawk, Tom Purdom, Tom Ligon, Yoji Kondo (Eric Kotani), John Hemry (Jack Campbell), Charles E. Gannon, and Dr. Arlan Andrews. The roundtable discussion topic was “How Science Fiction Changes Everything” – How Science Fiction Serves the National Interest. The Washington Science Fiction Association also sponsored the event.

Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro

Some (all?) members of the panel are also members of SIGMA:

SIGMA is a group of science fiction writers who offer futurism consulting to the United States government and appropriate NGOs. We provide a new concept in public service “think tanks”– an association of speculative writers who have spent careers exploring the future. Many of us have earned Ph.D.s in high tech fields, and some presently hold Federal and defense industry positions. Each is an accomplished science fiction author who has postulated new technologies, new problems and new societies, explaining the possible science and speculating about the effects on the human race.

The event was mostly the panel fielding questions from the audience. I enjoyed the evening; it was quite interesting to hear the viewpoints of various SF authors, especially Bear and Asaro, as I’m a fan of both. At the signing Dr. Asaro mentioned that the cover of Alpha was her favorite. The artist was going to go with a flowing gown, but she told him, no, I’d rather look like this:

SF Authors:  Bear, Asaro, etc. Roundtable at Reiter's Bookstore

SF Authors: Bear, Asaro, etc. Roundtable at Reiter's Bookstore

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

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