Sunday, November 1, 2015

Road Scholar: Washington DC 14-22 Oct 2015

I'm back from  eight days in DC, attending two Road Scholar sessions:  One was on Intelligence and Spies  and the other was on    Foreign Service diplomacy  in  currently conflicted areas. The first session was okay but the second was superb!  I was familiar with the material presented in both sessions but really was hooked in the second one, for I had visited most of the countries under discussion. 

I should start with what Road Scholar is:  for Seniors, it used to be called Elderhostel;   they sponsor    tours emphasizing learning about a subject or area.  I did a Cambridge Spy bit with them in London, a  trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon and several local sessions on Islam at a local mosque - formerly an H-P administrative building.   RS does cycling trips, hiking tours and cruises.  Most of the people at  the DC sessions had traveled extensively with them.   There were 32 attending the Spy talks and forty
at  the Foreign Service segments.  About half a dozen of us were there for both sessions. RS put together the Intel sessions while the Foreign Service planned the diplomacy symposium. 

The first series consisted of seven talks with five speakers combined with trips  to the International Spy Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and National Cryptologic Museum.  The final speaker, formerly an assistant director of the CIA, was by far the best:  he not only  discussed the Snowden controversy but reviewed  developing technology. He was both knowledgeable and professional  in his presentations.  Others told of polygraph use, "Cold War" intelligence gathering, development of the CIA and woman's role in Espionage.

And the developing technology is really scary, say I who was hacked while in DC!

Moving on, the Foreign Service  program started as the Spies attendees wandered off.  There were twelve lectures covering general information about the Foreign Service, global terrorism, politics and conflict  involving   Saudi Arabia, Israel- Palestine, Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Central Asia,  Pakistan, India and Columbia. Additionally we visited the Foreign Service Institute where efforts were made to teach us Swahili, a tour down Embassy Row, a stop at the Turkish Embassy and lunch at DACOR Bacon House, an 18th Century home now owned by an association of diplomats.  Two Frontline Television programs were shown:  Yemen and ISIS.

I came out of these sessions  being more aware than ever of the need to have  intelligence, good intelligence, as a basis of any  decision making. And to appreciate the intensive work involved in training  US representatives.  The caliber of speakers, including   ambassadors, was awesome.  The countries' histories were at their fingertips and made me appreciate some of the US's present activities. Past implusive   actions  led  to destructive   unintended consequences, eg: our foray into Iraq. 

There was spare time  We stayed in Upper Georgetown, near the Naval Observatory and Vice President's residence, so I did some wandering about in  a very nice neighborhood.   While I had  been to the Spy Museum last time I was in Washington,  I was interested by all the equipment augmented by an   able docent's explanations at the Cryptologic Museum.  The Cyber age is scary, say I who was hacked while in DC! 

Accommodation:The hotel,  Savoy Suites, was fine.  Really large  bedrooms and beds.  I was solo for the first session but had a roommate for the second. 

Food:  Almost all meals were included.  Nothing to write home about but acceptable.  
Ate out several times:   I ended up with several others eating at Whole Foods one evening.    And at a old time German restaurant during the second session. 

Cost:  Airfare was $$53 plus another $75 to change to an earlier flight to SFO.  RD sessions:  $890 and $1088  inclusive. 

Overall:  Glad I went.  Met a some interesting people, particularly a retired Florida cop  who was there for both sessions and really on top of the discussions.  I like DC and enjoyed both the drives and walks about town.  
And really benefited from the sessions.  All in all: worthwhile. And didn't fuss with a camera! 


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Unknown said...

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