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David Lesch, Former Pro Pitcher, Middle East Expert, and Professor
Episode 66th April 2020 • The Alamo Hour • Justin Hill
00:00:00 01:00:40

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Dr. David Lesch has published over 16 books with a particular focus on Syria, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle East and the current regional issues. He talks about how he became to befriend the leader of Syria and worked to counsel restraint in the Middle East. He has been sought after by many NGO's to help broker peace and he joins us to discuss it all.



Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenido, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here.

Today's guest is Dr. David Lesch. Dr. Lesch is a San Antonio local, former professional athlete. I think Harvard PhD, right?

David Lesch: Harvard PhD.

Justin: I want to say Yale just to mess with you. He's a Middle East expert. He's a professor at Trinity. He's one of my good friends. We have him on here today to talk about a few things which the plan was always to have you on to talk about Middle East but now we get to talk about the international effect of this. I still want to talk Middle East, I still want to talk Syria, but first, thank you for being here.

David: Pleasure to be here.

Justin: I've started with everybody the same way. I want to just go through some general information. First, important to me, do you have any pets?

David: No. I used to have two, one good one, one bad one.

Justin: What were they?

David: Dogs. [laughs]

Justin: All right. Why not now?

David: Because I've been there. I've done that. We have actually good furniture now. We don't want to get these things bitten or feed on or anything else.

Justin: This is exactly what I expect your response to be. I know what your favorite restaurant is right now. That one's marked off the list. What's your--

David: What do you know about that restaurant?

Justin: That it has good food.

David: There's one other thing. [laughs]

Justin: I don't know right now.

David: That's okay. You just need to look at the menu next time. Yes.

Justin: Oh, they have a to go?

David: Yes, yes.

Justin: I forgot. I will let you do that. Dr. Lesch has a--

David: Oh, no, no. It's not for me. It's for you to mention it so I look humble.

Justin: A dish named after him-

David: A dish named after me-

Justin: -at J-Prime.

David: -at J-Prime.

Justin: I can't imagine what [crosstalk]

David: It's called the Lesch Lobster or Lesch [unintelligible 00:02:00]

Justin: Okay.

David: It's a dish I found at a restaurant in Toronto. I brought it to the manager there. He loved it and he honored me, because I spent a lot of money there, [chuckles] to name the dish after me.

Justin: Very manly dish.

David: It is a very manly dish, especially when you dip it.

Justin: Other than J-Prime, what's your favorite place to eat in town?

David: J-Prime. [laughs] Did you mention J-Prime?

Justin: Do you ever eat like the locals eat? Maybe a taqueria or a burger joint?

David: What are those? I don't know.

Justin: Yes, okay.

David: Perry's maybe, The Perry's--


Downtown maybe Bohanan's.

Justin: Okay. This is going about where you should go. I asked everybody this. I'm going to because I think everybody's got this- if you come to San Antonio, you have to do this one thing. What is your hidden gem in San Antonio that you told visitors they've got to go see?

David: Oh, J-Prime.


It's going nowhere. You regret having me on. Now, hidden gem? It used to be the Liberty Bar when it was at its other location. Before I brought anybody anywhere from out of town it used to be on where the Pearl is now, that house that's leaning over and warped and everything. It was a fantastic place, and now it's on the Southside. That used to be the unique experience. Other than that right now, it's just, I don't know, there's something called the Alamo? Is that something that people go to?

Justin: Yesterday's guest said, "The Esquire bar."

David: The Esquire bar. Oh, maybe the 1919 bar, which is pretty good, the Southtown. I love these old iconic places bar.

Justin: Liberty Bar is in Southtown now, not Southside.

David: Did I say Southside?

Justin: You did. You do live in Stone Oak [crosstalk]

David: Do you need a passport to get down there?

Justin: You probably do.

David: Yes, I probably do. Okay.

Justin: All right. This is going great. Next, what are you involved with outside of work? Usually, we're asking, are you involved with any nonprofits?

David: I'm involved in a number of them. A number of conflict resolution, NGOs, international NGOs. One that I'm very proud of in which I'm very much engaged currently, is an organization called Cure Violence-


-based in Washington, DC. You see, you should never do this with a friend.

Justin: I don't even know what's funny now.

David: You should never do this with a friend.

Justin: Okay, let's keep it going

David: Yes, based in Washington, DC. What it does--


Justin: This is part of the shutdown coming.

David: This is what you need to edit out.

Justin: Cabin fever [crosstalk]

David: Exactly. Now, Cure Violence, it was rated by whoever rates these things, the number one conflict resolution or violence prevention NGO in the world, and it's number nine overall. What it is? It's apropos to what's going on in the world today.


Justin: This isn't getting edited out. This is [crosstalk]

David: You know what? We need levity in this world today.

Justin: We do.

David: [laughs] Never ever do-- The audience, if you can see this, he's making faces at me.


David: Anyway, going back to Cure Violence. It's a world-renowned epidemiologist, who used to work on Ebola and HIV in Africa, he wants to bring a health solution to violence. In other words, treat violence as an epidemic. How do we deal with epidemics? We contain it, we find vaccines, antibodies, things of this nature. He developed this model for interrupting violence at the local level in prisons, to gang violence in cities, to curtail violence. Finally, where I become involved, more specifically to violence in terms of war. Particularly, right now, we have operations in Syria.

What the organization does is it trains local community leaders in the areas where there's a lot of violence. They train them as interrupters in order to enact compromise, in order to talk to various people that may be on the verge of conflict, to try to get them down from that perch. It's worked beautifully.

Justin: A scientific approach to ending violence.

David: A scientific approach to ending or curtailing violence and murders and so forth. In a number of cities in which they are involved have gone down precipitously by 40% to 60%.

Justin: Internationally or more of an American-based [crosstalk]

David: It started American and domestic in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore. It's been very, very successful. They don't go to the whole city. Usually, they start out in, obviously, the various neighborhoods where there's a high incidence of crime. Then, from there, they started to go internationally. They go into Central and South America and deal with cartel situations where there's a high incidence of violence. Of course, as I just said, they have expanded into the Middle East. They're in the Gaza Strip. They are in Iraq in a certain degree in the last year. We've been going into Syria, into government-controlled, as well as opposition-controlled areas, to train people.

In a situation such as Syria, where eight years of civil war, the war will end- and in effect, in some ways, it has ended. As one of my colleagues, one of the top conflict resolution specialists in the world, said to me one time, he said, "When the war ends, that's when the conflict begins." You have all of these animosities, you have all of these vengeful attitudes, all of these things you have to deal with. You have the fractioning of society, economic dislocation, all of these things, all of these triggers for potential violence. We come in or Cure Violence comes in and identifies those triggers and help prevent them from being pulled, and if they are pulled, prevent it from getting worse.

In fact, recently, we may try to get them into San Antonio, into some areas. I have been in discussion with the city to do that. Obviously, with what's going on right now, it's in abeyance for the time being, but at some point, we may bring them into San Antonio.

Justin: We had a big spike in violence there for a while, violent crime.

David: Yes, particularly. Yes.

Justin: Is that the impetus in getting them involved here?

David: Yes, exactly. The key in all these things is funding, will the funding come from the city, will it come from the state, how much is needed, and so forth and so on. We're just in beginning discussions with that right now.

Justin: Do you have any hobbies outside of what I know about and come on, be careful here. I know you play tennis.

David: Play tennis.

Justin: You were a Major League Baseball pitcher at one point.

David: Professional baseball but I never made the major leagues. I was the number one draft pick of the Dodgers and it was in the minor leagues for a few years until a rotator cuff injury ended my- what, otherwise, would have been an illustrious career in the major leagues. I'm sure--

Justin: You were a professional baseball player.

David: I was a professional baseball player. In fact, I used to be lots of things. I was many, many things.

Justin: I've heard you tell people that.

David: I know. Yes, currently, I play tennis not as much as I used to because I've-- I'm a young guy as you know but my knees are quite old because of all the wear and tear that professional athletes go under.

Justin: Yes, being an international diplomat is very tough on the body.

David: Well, you walk a lot. Seriously, you walk back and forth, you shuttle diplomacy. [crosstalk]

Justin: With working, I could see you being a crochet guy.

David: I have a dream to play Cristofori's Dream on the piano, as well as Moonlighter, Midnight Sonata by Beethoven. It's Moonlight, whatever. Those are my two-- Before the arthritis in the fingers set in, I used to play--

Justin: Can you play the piano?

David: I can play some piano.

Justin: Okay.

David: Do you want me to-- Do you have a portable piano here?

Justin: No.

David: Too bad. The listeners [crosstalk]

Justin: For our listeners, he's pantomiming the piano right now.

David: [laughs] I'm putting myself in great jeopardy by saying I can do that.

Justin: How many languages do you speak?

David: 35.

Justin: Shut up. [laughs]

David: I can say yes in-- I speak Arabic, of course, French, Spanish somewhat, and a little bit of English. I'm trying to get better at English.

Justin: This is one I need you to be real honest on. Whenever I was a younger man, I had a mullet. What was the terrible trend you followed when you were young?

David: Good heavens.

Justin: I'm sure there's a good one for you.

David: Well, it's called the 1970s. That was the terrible trend.

Justin: Fro?

David: No, no. I was in a fried long hair and I was in the disco. I had--

Justin: Gross.

David: Gross? Dude.

Justin: [laughs] It's the worst confession.

David: Thanks. The last time I come on your show.

Justin: I think hair metal would be better if you could tell me that.

David: [laughs] I had a John Travolta outfit from Saturday Night Fever.

Justin: Big ABBA fan?

David: No. No, no. I was more of Led Zeppelin and that sort of thing, but also, I like disco because you went clubbing. That's what you do.

Justin: Fair enough. Disco, another time. What year did you move to San Antonio?

David: 1992.

Justin: You lived here straight ever since?

David: Yes. [chuckles] Are you asking my orientation? [laughs]

Justin: There's something behind me at this point. Since you're on the Northside--

David: I just want to let you know that after we're done and if you air all of those and when it airs, if you air this, about 25 organizations are going to come after you for this and sue you for everything. All the--

Justin: I don't think they will.

David: The thing is in this type of situation we need less PC and more levity.

Justin: I agree.

David: Everyone, loosen up a little bit and if we laugh a little bit and joke.

Justin: We're a bit going to be stuck at home for at least two weeks.

David: Believe me, audience, Justin and I are being on our very best behavior.

Justin: I'm always on my best behavior.

David: Yes, right. [chuckles]

Justin: I was going to ask you what's your favorite Fiesta event but you're a Northsider. Do you even go to any Fiesta? If you say just on the Southside--

David: Is that on the Southside? [laughs]

Justin: Yes, for you it is. For you it is.

David: Of course, when we moved here, we went to all the events once. I went to...