The Machiavelli of Maryland

Edward Luttwak; drawing by David Levine

“People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests. The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC – can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.”

Military strategist, classical scholar, cattle rancher – and an adviser to presidents, prime ministers, and the Dalai Lama. Just who is Edward Luttwak? And why do very powerful people pay vast sums for his advice?

Richard Branson, cross-dressed as a woman, serves as a flight attendant on AirAsia’s flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur Richard Branson, cross-dressed as a woman, serves as a flight attendant on AirAsia’s flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur

Richard Branson Reveals His Way of Leading a Company

BRANSON: Well, I’m quite badly dyslexic. And really bizarrely, it was on my 50th birthday that I was having a meeting with a group of executives. And I asked the question, “Is that good news or bad news?” when some figures were given to me. And one of the executives took me outside of the room and he had already prepared himself for this: he had a — some coloring pencils and he had a blank sheet of paper. He colored in this piece of paper blue, and then he put a net — a fishing net amongst it. And he put little fish in the fishing net. And he said, “Richard, I don’t think you know the difference between net and gross, and let me simplify it for you. The fish in the net are your profit. And the — all the fish that are not on the net are your gross turnover.” And hey, presto, I got it.

Freakonomics Radio

Deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde at the Tu Du Hospital, Vietnam. Deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde at the Tu Du Hospital, Vietnam. Reproductive abnormalities were caused by Agent Orange – one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its chemical warfare programme, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths.

Pentagon’s Top Secret Research Project: Saigon, 1965

In the early 1960s, the Pentagon set up a top-secret research project in an old villa in downtown Saigon. The task? To interview captured North Vietnamese soldiers and guerrillas in order to measure their morale: Was the relentless U.S. bombing pushing them to the brink of capitulation?

Saigon, 1965 is the story of three people who got caught up in that effort: a young Vietnamese woman, a refugee from Nazi Germany, and a brilliant Russian émigré. All saw the same things. All reached different conclusions. The Pentagon effort, run by the Rand Corporation, was one of the most ambitious studies of enemy combatants ever conducted—and no one could agree on what it meant.

Revisionist History

Annihilation of Raktabija by Goddess Durga and Kali Annihilation of demon Raktabija by Goddess Durga and Kali

The East India Company: the Original Corporate Raiders

How East India Company headquartered in one small office, in London, subjugaed and plundered vast tracts of south Asia. In many ways the EIC was a model of corporate efficiency: 100 years into its history, it had only 35 permanent employees in its head office. Nevertheless, that skeleton staff executed a corporate coup unparalleled in history.

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads

Collective Intelligence

If you wanted to build a team in such a way that you maximized its overall intelligence, how would you do it? Would you stack it with high-IQ brainiacs? Would you populate it with natural leaders? Would you find experts on a wide range of topics? Well, those all sound like great ideas, but the latest research into collective intelligence suggests that none of them would work. In this episode we will discuss what factors constitute the best solution.

You Are Not So Smart

The Man Who Brought You Brexit

the-man-who-broughtBritain’s vote to leave the EU was the grand finale of a 25-year campaign by a lonely sect of true believers.
“…you don’t get to Brexit without someone dreaming up the window – the remedy of leaving – in the first place. And during those long years inside the European project, that was the work of the right wing of the Conservative party. To be specific, a small, somewhat esoteric part of that wing: a flash of feathers, almost, a sect of true Eurosceptic believers who dreamed and schemed for this moment for the last 25 years. Most worked for little else, with no reward, and with no sign that they would ever prevail. “Like the monks on Iona,” as one of their former parliamentary researchers told me, “illuminating their manuscripts and waiting for the Dark Ages to come to an end.” And no one in that group worked with more devotion than Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European parliament for south-east England.”
Written and read by Sam Knight. Produced by Simon Barnard

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads | 28th October 2016

Hallelujah

HALLELUJAH“In 1984, Elvis Costello released what he would say later was his worst record: Goodbye Cruel World. Among the most discordant songs on the album was the forgettable “The Deportees Club.” But then, years later, Costello went back and re-recorded it as “Deportee,” and today it stands as one of his most sublime achievements.

“Hallelujah” is about the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius, and how some of the most memorable works of art had modest and undistinguished births.”

Malcolm Gladwell | Revisionist History | 29th July 2016

Abdi and the Golden Ticket

abdi-and-the-goldenA story about someone who’s desperately trying – against long odds – to make it to the United States and become an American. Abdi is a Somali refugee living in Kenya and gets the luckiest break of his life: he wins a lottery that puts him on a short list for a US visa. This is his ticket out. But before he can cash in his golden ticket, the police start raiding his neighborhood, targeting refugees.

This American Life | 3rd July 2015

David Remnick – the editor of The New Yorker

david_remnick A Conversation with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. “I think it’s important — not just for me, but for the readers — that this thing exists at the highest possible level in 2016, in 2017, and on. That there’s a continuity to it. I know, because I’m not entirely stupid, that these institutions, no matter how good they are, all institutions are innately fragile. Innately fragile.”

Longform | 20th June 2016