Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas and Creationism

Christmas and Creationism
By Christopher Dickey December 22nd 2013 6:45 AM

In an exclusive interview, the bishop who heads the Pontifical Academy of Sciences accepts the theory of evolution, critiques capitalism, and defends his fellow Argentine, Pope Francis.


France 24: The World This Week
In Brussels, French President François Hollande was hoping to get support from 27 other heads of state for French military intervention in the Central African Republic. But he didn't walk away with much - apart from half a dozen countries sending modest logistical support, the EU is not providing direct financial aid, and there is still no path towards a common European defence policy.
And in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry signalled that American diplomacy was ready to sit down and talk with the islamists, but they refused. How likely is it that January's peace conference will bring about true reconciliation?
I also get a chance to talk about killer robots ...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How I Learned to Love 'Killer Robots'

DARPA's Drone Olympics
By Christopher Dickey, December 19th 2013 5:45 AM
The world may discover some hard truths about killer robots this week at the amazing DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition for the world's next-generation robots.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Black Swans over Iran: A look at clear and present improbable threats to the nuclear deal

Iranian Bombs and Black Swans in the Nuclear Negotiations

By Christopher Dickey, December 17th 2013 5:45 AM
Many improbable catastrophes might wreck the all-important Iran negotiations. One of them is named Giuliani.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NYPD Blues: Bill Bratton vs. Ray Kelly

NYPD BLUES: Bill Bratton Vs. Ray Kelly
By Christopher Dickey
December 12th 20135:45 AM
The new commissioner of the NYPD will do many of the same things for which the old commissioner has been criticized. Politics change. Policing, not so much.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The NYPD’s Report on The Kenya Shopping Mall Massacre

Inside The NYPD's Report on The Kenya Shopping Mall Massacre
By Christopher Dickey, December 10th 2013 10:00 AM
The shocking revelations of the New York City Police Department's report on "lessons learned" from the September terrorist attack in Kenya.

A draft copy of the NYPD report is available here:

You may also want to look at the videos posted earlier on this blog:


And for some lighter reading:

Paris's New Metro Etiquette Manual is a Rosetta Stone for Travelers
By Christopher Dickey, December 8th 2013 5:45 AM
A new rulebook for people in Paris public transports also serves as a helpful key to decoding the idiosyncrasies of French public behavior.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Day Iran's Embassy in DC Went Dry

Amid speculation that Iran may someday soon reopen its embassy in Washington D.C. (which I doubt), it seemed appropriate to post this little piece I wrote for The Washington Post metro section in May 1979:

The Washington Post

May 28, 1979, Monday, Final Edition


By Christopher Dickey, Washington Post Staff Writer

First Section; A1

Champagne corks were popping and the scent of martinis wafted through the air at the Iranian embassy yesterday for the first time since the shah's people left in February and the abstemious Islamic republic took over.

But this event was in the style of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The liquor - more than 4,000 bottles of rare wines and expensive spirits - was flowing not down the throats of guests, but down the drain.

The entire liquor supply of former ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi, once the city's most lavish party-givers, had been carted up from his wine cellars and liquor cabinets to be emptied into a small fountain beside the terrace in back of his former residence at 3003 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

An embassy inventory of the liquor placed its wholesale value at about $22,000, but connoisseurs who were telephoned yesterday afternoon its retail worth could be three times that amount.

A young woman who said she was speaking for the embassy press office said the liquor supply was discovered soon after the embassy and residence changed hands Feb. 11.

"It was a consensus that something must be done with this," she said, watching a magnum of Dom Perignon 1970 being poured away. "It could have been auctioned off or sold back to the retailers. But we checked with Ayatollah Khomeini (the spiritual leader of the Islamic republic) and he was the one who said it should just be disposed of . . . If you want to build an Islamic republic on principle then you want to start clean."

The Islamic government also launched a drive against drinking in Iran, and a similar emptying of bottles took place at the Shah's palace in Tehran after the revolution, the woman said.

The embassy's liquor was bought, according to a sign on the 10-foot high stack of cases, with "money of the oppressed people of Iran," but was especially onerous to the new regime because of the Koran specifically prohibits the faithful from drinking alcohol.

In liquor, the Islamic holy book says, there is "great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit."

Some wine merchants reached at home yesterday expressed dismay at the disposal of the Iranian liquor.

"That's incredible. What a waste," said Ed Sands of Woodley Wine and Liquor as the inventory was read to him: 23 cases of gin, about 20 more of vodka (emptied along with 16 cases of vermouth, hence the martini smell), 23 cases of scotch; a long list of vintage wines, 20 cases of Champagne that retails for $80 a magnum, and so on.

"Unbelievable," said Sands, "unbelievable."

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Notes on the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and Americans in Paris

[Photo by CSD of Rudolph Giuliani and Maryam Rajavi]

On Saturday, 7 December 2013, in an auditorium at the Bourse in Paris, France, Maryam Rajavi and the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) held a meeting with several notable supporters including former New York Mayor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani, former Vermont Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Howard Dean, former attorney general in the George W. Bush administration Michael Mucasey, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu's daughter Naomi Nontombi Tutu. Over the years, despite it cult-like practices and even when it was formally labeled a terrorist organization, the organization managed to acquire quite a list of high-profile ex-dignitaries in the United States.

I went to cover the event because I think the group may wind up playing a role of one sort and another helping to undermine American and European efforts to reach an agreement with Iran to forestall and foreclose its nuclear weapons capability.

There are several ways the MEK might do this.

It was listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization until last year for reasons outlined in this Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder. Despite official denials, it may yet try to use violence inside Iran to undermine the talks, knowing full well that any terrorist incidents will serve the hardliners in the regime and "exacerbate the contradictions," as leftist revolutionaries used to say. When Iranian scientists have been killed, suspicion often has fallen on the MEK, the Israelis, or both.

The MEK claims to have extensive intelligence resources on the ground in Iran and claims credit for the important revelation in 2002 of the regime's secret nuclear program, although there has been extensive speculation that the actual intelligence was supplied to the MEK by the Israelis. Its ability to float information -- or disinformation -- about the regime's activities could complicate debate inside the the United States.

To the extent the MEK claims credit for adding to the pressure on the Iranian government to negotiate it strengthens the hand of those inside Iran who want to discredit the negotiators.

But its greatest disruptive ability at the moment may well be connected to the way the Iranian-backed government of Iraq has treated MEK members in various camps there. On September 1 this year, 52 of them were killed, allegedly by special forces from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, and seven (six of them women) are alleged to have been taken hostage.

Why the Iraqi government would do this, even with prodding from the Iranians, is something of a mystery. One obvious possibility would be revenge: the MEK sided with the mullahs to overthrow the shah, then attempted, and failed, to take over the revolution; it subsequently blew up scores of top Iranian religious leaders, and after Saddam Hussein invaded Iran it sided with his forces. More than 20 years later, when the United States led the invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam, the MEK still supported him. But U.S. forces decided its members might be used in some way as a card in future negotiations with Iran and the more than 3,000 MEK members in Iraq were put in a camp, disarmed, and began an existence in legal, political and diplomatic limbo. As the United States withdrew from Iraq in 2011, fears mounted that the government of Prime Minister Maliki would simply ship the Iranian MEK members across the border to face the tender mercies of the government in Tehran.

That did not happen. Instead their camp at Ashraf was closed after a violent incursion by Iraqi forces and they were sent to Camp Liberty on the outskirts of Baghdad (although they are still referred to by the MEK as "Ashrafis," which is why in my tweets there were some references to killings at Camp Ashraf that were in fact at Camp Liberty).

The United States and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assured the Ashrafis that they would be resettled in other countries, but that process has been very slow and one of the few countries willing to accept them even temporarily for medical care has been Albania. The camp came under repeated mortar attacks, and then came the September 1 killings and abductions. 

Giuliani, Dean and others who worked to get the MEK "delisted" from the State Department's catalogue of foreign terrorist organizations were involved to some extent in the assurances given the MEK that they would be protected at Camp Liberty and relocated in a timely fashion. 

Giuliani argued yesterday that the issue of the Ashrafis and the nuclear negotiations should be linked, something the Obama administration is very unlikely to do. Dean claimed that failure to protect the Ashrafis dishonored the United States of America. 

Following are my live tweets from the meeting:

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela's Choice: Guerrilla? Terrorist? Saboteur? Pragmatist.

Anger at the Heart of Nelson Mandela's Violent Struggle

By Christopher Dickey, December 6th 201310:19 AM

The future president of South Africa once considered guerilla warfare and terrorism to overturn Apartheid. Imprisoned for so long, his anger mellowed.

Prostitutes, Johns and Posturing in France

France's New Prostitution Law Targets Johns, Ignites National Debate
By Christopher Dickey, December 5th 20135:45 AM
The new anti-prostitution law in France is supposed to make sex workers safer, but it may make their business more dangerous than ever.

I've also been posting a lot of snapshots of Venice and Paris on:

La Strada

Instagram @csdickey

and, of course, Tumblr