Saturday, May 16, 2009

Confronting your own arguments..

As most regular readers know, I do a great deal of traveling to work as a consultant with history teachers nationwide. I spent this weekend in Washington DC, playing tour guide. I'll admit that sometimes that these are long days, especially when I'm hearing somebody spout their patter for the fourth or fifth time.

But this weekend was different.

I had never been to the International Spy Museum before, and--frankly--it was the single most impressive facility I have visited since the Holocaust Museum opened. The exhibits are not only first-rate, but the museum is a for-profit facility that is not sitting there sucking up my tax money.

We got the special tour, from the museum's historian, Dr. Thomas Boghert, and an hour-long session with former senior CIA operative Melissa Mahle.

Aside from her engaging presention, what was refreshing about Ms. Mahle was her lack of equivocation. She was honest about how badly the CIA blew any number of issues around 9/11, and on torture she said, "It's simply wrong. Unethical and wrong."

That evening we had a talk from as far to the other side of the political spectrum as you could get, with Dr. Allida Black of George Washington University's Eleanor Roosevelt Project.

In political terms I am pretty far distant from Dr. Black, but she is (a) the foremost Eleanor Roosevelt scholar on the planet; (b) an incredibly good speaker; and (c) one of the most intellectually impressive human beings I have run across. When you encounter somebody like Dr. Black, there are two things you can do: ignore her and cocoon yourself in your own beliefs, refusing to accept the challenge she represents, or take the opportunity to examine the central core of what you think in response to her presentation.

I'll be doing the second. Dr. Black pointed out the primary rule that Eleanor Roosevelt learned about debate: do not go into an argument until you can make all of your opponents best arguments as strongly as he or she can, and have figured out how to refute them. So look for me to be trying to challenge a few personal core beliefs over the next month or two.


Perry said...

What an interesting weekend for you, Steve!

Next time I get a chance, I intend to visit the International Spy Museum.

Good advice from Eleanor Roosevelt. Following that advice could shut me up completely for awhile, which is probably just what I need.

Anyway, I will be looking forward to your self-challenge of some of your core beliefs, when the time comes.

Perry Hood

Anonymous said...

A quick, personal spy story:

In November 2000, having contracted to have a home built in Lewes, we put our home on the market and sold it for a few thousand under our asking price within two weeks to a single woman who was going to have her elderly parents come to live with her. She told us that her dad had early stage Alzheimer's, and the second kitchen downstairs would be enable them to live privately downstairs. We settled around thanksgiving time, and moved out.

A few days later, our former next door neighbor in Vienna called us in Lewes to ask about the new owners, why they would be having installed multiple telephone lines. We had no idea.

To make a long story short, the FBI made an arrest about two months later when an attempt was made to make a drop for the Russians in a nearby park. It turned out that the FBI had purchased our house and used it as a surveillance location to observe the house directly across the street from us.

Final comment: Several months later, the FBI sold the house, making a profit of about $13K.

I should have held out for more!

Perry Hood

PS: Bob Hanson, notorious spy for the Russians now in prison for life, lived directly across the street from us in Vienna, VA!

And "that's the end of the story"!