Russian Politics Through the Looking Glass

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Russia essays. Several days into my trip, I had a meeting with Vladmir Zhirinovsky, one of the most famous, infamous Russian politicians of the past twenty years. In 1990 he founded the Liberal Democrat Party (LDPR), the first real independent political opposition to the Communists. In the 1993 parliamentary elections, the LDPR gained about 23% of the vote. Zhirinovsky had positioned himself as a kind of Huey Long of Russian politics, with a comic touch. He once promised to give out free vodka to one and all if he were elected president.

Read More Comments are off for this post.

The Future Empire

Read Part 1 of the Russia essays. On the thirteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Moscow last month, I ignored the various entertainments that Aeroflot was offering, and concentrated on two things: finishing a book I had started on Russian history (Russia: The Once and Future Empire, by Philip Longworth) and looking out the window at the strange and impressive sights. In the history book, I had arrived at the 20th century and the catalog of tragedy and catastrophe (compacted into a few hundred pages) was almost too much to take. First there was the story of the Russian

Read More Comments are off for this post.

Russia and Power

Almost everyone is drawn somehow to the exotic, whatever is most different to what they know. It is the root of many a seduction. In California, where I grew up, the exotic was mostly represented by Asia. In the 1970s, this meant dabbling in yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, the I Ching, etc. I would develop an interest in things Asian much later in life. For me, what was most exotic was Russia. It began with my first Dostoyevsky novel (he remains my favorite writer to this day). The characters in his novels contained these powerful contradictions; they would say something and

Read More Comments are off for this post.

Angles, Hustlers And Suckers

I forgot something important that you must remember until you go six feet under…. There are only two kinds of people in the whole wide world, grifters and suckers…. [With suckers,] let their stupid brains stay asleep in their chump world. Keep your own brain honed to razor sharpness in the secret world of con. –Iceberg Slim A few years ago, to help my mind get over the grind of the WAR book, I bought a pool table. After a hard day’s work, I would settle into the game of pool and make myself completely focus on the green felt,

Read More Comments are off for this post.

OODA and You

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at a company convention in southern California. This company has offices worldwide, is very successful in its line of work, but on the horizon are some dangers. They brought me in to address those dangers. The specifics here do not matter much, only to say that, like a lot of companies that were successful in the 80s and on up to the present, they have come to rely upon a particular business model that is part circumstance and part design. Loosely put, their upper-tier employees operate more like entrepreneurs, each one out

Hugo Chavez

In 1984, I spent several months in Nicaragua, trying to write several articles on the war between the U.S.-backed contras and the Sandinistas. I had been ostensibly sent there by the magazine Mother Jones, but the article–on Americans living there and working for the Sandinistas–was never published, for reasons I cannot remember. In any event, the experience was incredibly memorable, an endless series of eye-opening adventures. I went there with an open mind, but left with a depressing impression, as if history were a kind of revolving door in which we are all trapped. What I mean is the following:

Read More Comments are off for this post.

Corners

In almost all board games–chess, go (wei chi), backgammon, etc. –the corners spell defeat and death. In each game, the corners are configured differently, but as someone who plays them all, I know the feeling that first hits me in the gut as I sense that I am finding myself trapped in a corner. My pulse increases, my emotions get tugged at (anger, frustration, impatience) and often I end up making mistakes that aggravate the situation. The key in the end is to minimize the damage and regain control of the center. But the real key lies in the mind

Read More Comments are off for this post.

Machiavelli for Our Times

For the past twelve years, I have this ritual in which every December I reread some work of Machiavelli. This year it was the Discourses. What struck me this time was how many ideas in the Discourses dominate my own way of thinking. I read it some twenty years ago, and it must have unconsciously seeped its way into my belief system. The book is so full of ideas that sparkle to life the more you think about them that I found myself transported back to my early twenties when reading a book like this could make my head spin

Read More Comments are off for this post.

An Experiment in Counter-Stupidity

Originally I had proposed to do my third book on the history of human stupidity. It would basically be an offshoot of the transgression part of the 48 Laws, each one of those being a form of stupidity. I had the book mapped out in an interesting way, but the publishers felt it was too negative, and so I plowed ahead with the more general idea of a book on War and Strategy. This was probably for the better, but I will return to the idea of stupidity some day and make that book. It is all centered around the

Read More Comments are off for this post.

The Art of Interviewing

The future lies in new forms of communication. The old ways are dead and dying. People have short attention spans, are inundated with information. The future I am speaking of is more indirect, strategic and conscious. Everything is a sign, not just what you say, but how you say it and how you lead people to certain ideas or conclusions. If this concept eludes or leaves you cold, then you should probably not frequent this site. It is the core of everything I write about. It is Machiavelli for the 21st century. One banal but revealing example is the interview.

Read More Comments are off for this post.