When Hutu military forces initiate a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina struggles to protect Tutsi refugees and his wife as the violence around them escalates into what is now known as the Rwandan genocide.
A podcast from 2014, but the content still very much applies today, seven years later. The episode can be found here.
Operation Entebbe (military code name Operation Thunderbolt) was a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in 1976.
Published in: 2016
Pan Capital, with its thirty employees, could do up to half a million transactions a day. By the spring of 2000, the Swedish trading firm had been trading profitably for 90 consecutive months. Since the first day in the spring of 1998, they had turned Erik Penser’s loan of SEK 50 million into more than SEK 3.5 billion in profits, and along the journey become one of Goldman Sachs’ largest customers in the world. Risk is the story of how a few bank-employed traders through trial-and-error revolutionized the global electronic stock trading.
1970s – THE STOCK MARKET AWAKENS. In Sweden, the stock market had been in decline since the 1930s and for decades politicians had regulated the market. Interest rates were set centrally and foreign transactions in securities were prohibited. Shares and bonds were mainly controlled by banks and insurance companies. In the early 1970s, however, everything changed. Bretton Woods, the international currency cooperation, was dismantled and fixed exchange rates were replaced by variable ones. The price of oil rose 20x, inflation exploded, and interest rates skyrocketed. An entire register of new instruments appeared on the stock exchanges: Derivatives (options, futures, options on futures and interest rate swaps).
1980s – DEREGULATION. When Reagan and Thatcher entered the stage, new ideas sipped over to Sweden. Equity fund savings were subsidized, the market was deregulated, and the entire “folk home” floated in a national speculative acid. The money market was born, then the futures and options markets, and after a couple of years of financial liberation, everything ended in the crash of the 1990s.
THE WORLD IS OPENING UP. While Europe and North America opened up, Latin America, Asia and Africa remained white spots on the financial map. In Thailand, foreigners were prevented from owning more than 49% of the country’s listed companies and in Chile 25%. Countries such as South Korea, India, China and Taiwan were in practice completely closed to international capital. But in the late 1980s, emerging markets began to gradually open up. Malaysia opened in 1988, Argentina and Mexico in 1989, Brazil in 1991, India and South Korea in 1992.
1990s – CRISIS AND DIGITIZING. In 1990, the Stockholm Stock Exchange crashed, and banks, municipalities and insurance companies lost billions. The unions collapsed, people in finance were despised, and half of the securities market sought exile in London. In the early 1990s, the market functioned virtually like any industry before industrialization. Doing something on a large scale required a large crew. Transaction lists were printed at the end of each trading day and ticked off by hand, line by line. But during the decade, the financial world would go through a digitization process.
STOCK EXCHANGES GETS INCORPORATED. A few years into the 1990s, the Stockholm Stock Exchange became the first in the world to be incorporated and privatized. The former ownerless club was transformed into a limited liability company whose shares were distributed among the brokerage houses. This was the beginning of a wave that swept through the entire industry. The Helsinki Stock Exchange was privatized in 1995, Copenhagen in 1996, Amsterdam and Rome in 1997 and Australia in 1998. Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and Paris followed in 2000.
PAN CAPITAL. Pan Capital was started in 1998 by Pär Sandå, who was head of trading at Swedbank, together with friends Henrik Hedman and Claes-Henrik Julander. After a short time with Hagströmer and Qviberg, at the investment company Öresund, they started their own venture. Erik Penser contributed start-up capital and the first financial statements showed a profit of SEK 20 million. Ten years later, the company’s profit was SEK 1.4 billion.
FINDS EDGE THROUGH EXCEL AND VB. In the summer of 2001, Pan Capital had created a program in Visual Basic which, via a standard spreadsheet in excel, enabled a trader to do instant transactions with the keyboard that had previously taken seconds. The program was named TT, or “Toktradern” (the crazy trader), and would give the company a big advantage over slower market players. This would in the next decade lead to the company placing computers physically close to the world stock exchanges – then they got a few millisecond lead over the competitors. Later proprietary software kept track of which markets were open and closed, downloaded prices of thousands of stocks and currencies, and presented the information to traders in real time. Goldman Sachs wanted to buy the system without understanding that it was a home build in Visual Basic.
REPEATED BACKTESTS. Pan Capital had wondered whether it was possible to predict stock market movements by studying bar charts, moving averages and other indicators. They tested new strategies by letting computers process old stock quotes through the nights, and then in the mornings studied the results. They could then see that a strategy gave x% in return, made some adjustments, drove another night, and had hopefully added some percentage points.
TRIAL & ERROR. Faced with everyday-, or more serious problems, Sandå and Julander quickly tested a solution without thinking too much, they called it “iteration”. And so they continued non-stop, every day, with the ambition to constantly make the business a little better. “Anyone can iterate! Should I choose A or B? I’m taking B! As long as I do not die on the road, I will constantly push myself a little forward. We always started by losing money fast, within five seconds. And then when we had lost some money, we investigated what had happened. “
AUTOMATE ADMINISTRATION. Pan Capital constantly worked towards understanding the smallest components of the market and streamlined its internal systems. As they increasingly sent capital back and forth between time zones, they began to methodically automate every little dimension of the company’s administrative work.
A FOCUS ON COSTS. Pan Capital was built according to the principle that expenses should be avoided. A newly hired IT technician recalled that “everything was built with stuff you find at ordinary people’s homes, and then they could sometimes do over 1% of the deals on the New York Stock Exchange.”
THE FINANCIAL CRISIS – AN EASY VICTORY. When the smoke dissipated after the financial crisis, Pan Capital had made more than SEK 4 billion in profits. Not by daring to invest everything in one risky stock, but by piece by piece, day by day, dismantling the international stock market in its smallest components.
FLY UNDER THE RADAR. Not “being someone” in the financial industry has both advantages and disadvantages. Among the disadvantages is the difficulty of gaining a hearing for their ideas, especially among the banks whose main task had been to maintain existing structures. Among the advantages, which far outweigh the disadvantages, is the privilege of being able to get away in peace, without the attention of the outside world.
DO NOT HAVE SO MUCH RESPECT FOR SUCCESS. Sandå and his friends were more interested in the game than maximizing earnings by transforming the business into a highly profitable hedge fund. He had also studied the process – the way in which you become good at something. Asking questions to people who were good at something eventually became the working method within Pan Capital. “We who did this are not so insanely smart, we can probably prove it any day. It was rather trial-and-error. People do not believe it, because they have so much respect for success and money that they assume that you have to be very smart. But it’s more about a passion. ”
King George VI tries to overcome his stammering problem with the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue and makes himself worthy enough to lead his country through World War II. Available on Youtube, among other places.
Published in: 2012
Jay Bahadur is a Canadian journalist who began his career as a 24-year-old by buying a one-way ticket to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008. During a six-week stay, he met pirates and learned from the inside how Somalia’s lucrative pirate sector worked. His time in Puntland was turned into the movie “Into the fire”. At the time of writing, Somalia had around 1,500-2,000 pirates active along a lawless coastline stretching over 2,500 km. As of 2021, virtually all piracy off the coast of Somalia has ceased.
CIVIL WAR & STATE COLLAPSE. With the continent’s longest coast, a strategic location along the Suez Canal and a long history of trade, Somalia has all the potential to be one of Africa’s most economically successful countries. But years of disastrous military campaigns, backward-looking Marxist economic policies, and clan-based discrimination resulted in the outbreak of civil war in the late 1980s. In 1991, the state collapsed when rebel factions took over Mogadishu and dictator Siad Barre fled the country. Since then, only the state of Somaliland has shown signs of law and order – the rest of the country is in varying degrees of hopeless state.
SOMALIA CONSISTS OF SIX STATES. To speak of Somalia as a unified entity is a wrong characterization, because in the wake of the civil war, the country was divided into the autonomous enclaves of Puntland, Somaliland, Southwest State of Somalia, Jubaland, Hirshabelle and Galmudug. Somaliland has a coastline along the Gulf of Aden that is comparable to Puntland’s but has basically no pirates. The few that have existed have long since been arrested and imprisoned. Somaliland is politically relatively stable, which is a result of clan stability and a long history of democracy. There is total anarchy in the south and Al-Shabaab is strong there. Down south there are also no pirates as they risk being attacked by other criminals.
PUNTLAND = PIRATE LAND. Puntland proved to have the perfect characteristics to become a pirate nest: its location right between the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden (one of the busiest waterways in the world) and the perfect balance of lawlessness and stability. The local state lacks the financial means to hunt down pirates and keep them imprisoned. Puntland has two “pirate capitals”, Eyl and Harardhere, where most of the pirates were based.
FOREIGNERS TAKES ALL FISH AND DUMPS NUCLEAR WASTE. In the mid-1990s, Somali fishermen began to feel competition from foreign fishing vessels, mainly Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean, with advanced equipment. In just a few years, the local fishermen were outcompeted, and the fish stock was depleted. In addition, foreign ships had dumped nuclear waste and chemicals off the coast of Somalia, which had been stirred up from the seabed since the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. This led to the local population starting to get serious diseases.
FISHERMEN TURNS PIRATES. When the Somali fishermen could no longer support themselves, they shifted their focus to catching foreign fishermen. Between 1995 and 1997, foreign fishing vessels were hijacked, and money was successfully exchanged. The foreign trawlers responded by hiring local warlords who put armed guards on the ships. As a result, the focus shifted from hijacking trawlers to hijacking commercial cargo ships.
THE WORLD’S BEST BUSINESS MODEL. Pirates work in small, decentralized groups of 20-50 men – mainly relatives and friends who come together for a project. A hijacking requires a start-up capital of around $50k and in addition enough to cover costs for food and fuel while the hijacking continues, which can be several years. The return on a successful hijacking can exceed 1,000% and in 2010 Harvard Business School named “Somalia piracy” the world’s best business model. Half of the ransom usually went to the attackers, a third went to the investors and the remaining share was divided between guards, food and water suppliers, translators, and mediators.
PIRACY STATISTICS. Somali pirate attacks have occurred from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and along a north-south axis that stretches from Oman to Madagascar – an area almost as large as the United States. In 2005, the ransom could be a few hundred thousand dollars. Just five years later, the highest ransoms reached $13m. However, as ransoms increased (in 2011 the average ransom was $4.5m), the financial incentives for shipowners, who began hiring armed forces to protect their ships, changed. From 2009, the western world also stepped up its military presence with about 30 warships in the area.
THE RISK OF HIJACKING IS LOW. When hijackings fail (60-70% of the time), it is usually due to early detection, increased speed, and avoidant measures. During the years when piracy was at its peak, the Western world spent $1bn to $1.5bn a year to prevent a “pirate industry” worth no more than $90m. It is easy to question the return on this investment, but the figures do not show the deterrent effects of the effort and the lives that have probably been saved.
Published in: 2002
Scottish names stand out on a list of books that dominated European thinking in the late 18th century: Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature and Essays Political, Literary and Moral. William Robertson’s History of Scotland and History of the Reign of Charles V. We also have Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society, John Millar’s’ The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks, and Thomas Reid’s Inquiry into the Human Mind, Francis Hutcheson’s System of Moral Philosophy and Lord Kames’ Sketches of History of Man. The Scots are behind what we now call social sciences: anthropology, ethnography, sociology, psychology, history, and economics. At the end of the 18th century, Scotland had created the basic institutions and ideas that define the modern world.
IN THE GRIP OF THE CHURCH. In Scotland in the 17th century, witches were prosecuted and hanged. One movement, the Latitudinarians, believed that Christianity should be a religion of tolerance, and were open to the new scientific ideas that swept across Europe. They were admirers of England’s two most famous scientists, the chemist Robert Boyle and the mathematician Isaac Newton, and were allied with the Englishman John Locke, whose argument was the basis for the idea of separation of church and state (an influence to England – Act of Toleration from 1689). But Scotland, in the late 17th century, was a nation with hard repressive rules. The compensation for this authoritarian regime was powerful: direct access to God.
THE BACKWARD SIBLING. England and Scotland have been united by history and geography since the fall of the Roman Empire. They were twin kingdoms, born in the same era and from the same forces. Unlike its English counterpart, the Scottish Parliament did not have a long-standing reputation as a forum for public debate or as a defender of citizens’ rights. On the contrary, it had a long and shameful history of submission to royal authority. In 1695, the Scottish ruling class gathered in Edinburgh’s Parliament and decided to do something about it.
TRADE BEGINS WITH FAILURE. Scotland wanted to do as the English had done. Parliament authorized the Darien Company, inspired by the East India Company, to carry on a seaborne trade. In 1696, Parliament approved the use of the company to establish a colony in Panama, on the Isthmus of Darien. Fever broke out and killed settlers at a rate of twelve a day. Filling spread and discipline, divine or otherwise, collapsed. Spain then asserted its right to Darien as part of Panama. Two more failed expeditions were initiated. The Darien venture cost more than 2,000 lives and over 200,000 pounds. In December 1704, the Bank of Scotland ceased payments to creditors.
EDUCATION SAFER THAN THEOLOGY. In the early 18th century, theology was controversial and politically charged, and young intellectuals turned their energies to mathematics, medicine, law, and science. Scottish intellectuals believed that studies of science, medicine, mathematics, and technology were at least as important as literature, philosophy, history, and art.
A SUCESSFUL UNION. Following the Darien fiasco, the dissolution of a separate Scottish Parliament was demanded, which met with strong protests. But instead of becoming slaves to the English, as doomsday prophets predicted, freedom, mobility, and an economic boom followed. By 1755, Scottish exports had more than doubled. For a generation, Scotland was transformed into a modern society. The greatest thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, such as Adam Smith and David Hume, learned that change constantly involves trade-offs, and that short-term costs can be offset by long-term benefits. “Over time”, “in balance”, “in general” – became a favorite expression among the illuminated Scots of the 18th century.
HIGHEST LITERACY. In the Catholic Church, the Bible has been a closed book and Scotland entered the 18th century with little literacy. At the end of the 18th century, it was the highest in the world. Reduced censorship created a literary explosion. A national survey in 1795 showed that out of a total population of 1.5 million, almost 20,000 made a living from writing and 10,500 from teaching. In Glasgow, the tuition fee was one tenth of Cambridge or Oxford. More than half of the students at the University of Glasgow 1740–1830 came from middle-class backgrounds.
IRON SHARPENS IRON. Hutcheson believed that the goal of life was happiness, and the highest level of happiness is to make others happy. Self-interest and altruism are intertwined. The Hutchesons influenced students such as Adam Smith, who arrived in Glasgow in 1737. Hume and Kames belonged to the same ecosystem and further freed human nature from theological moorings by saying that morality (and society) comes from human ambitions. They saw people as products of their environment, both in terms of the individual (Hume) and the collective (Kames).
HISTORY AND HUMAN NATURE. The great discovery of the “Scottish school”, which was carried on in the world, is that we are beings of our nature. Even our moral character is constantly evolving, shaped by various forces over which we as individuals have little or no control. At the same time, they insisted that these changes are not arbitrary or chaotic. They are based on certain basic principles and clear patterns.
In the wake of World War II, 11 Allied judges are tasked with weighing the fates of Japanese war criminals in a tense international trial. Available on Netflix among other places.
The Unknown Known (also known as The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld) is a 2013 American documentary film about the political career of former U.S. Secretary of Defense and congressman Donald Rumsfeld, directed by Academy Award winning documentarian and filmmaker Errol Morris. The film is a summary of 33 hours of interviews that Morris conducted with Rumsfeld over eleven separate sessions during visits to Newton, Massachusetts. Available on Youtube, among other places.
In 1977, three years after the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) selects British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) to conduct a one-on-one, exclusive interview. Though Nixon believes it will be easy to mislead Frost, and the latter’s own team doubts that he can stand up to the former president, what actually unfolds is an unexpectedly candid and revealing interview before the court of public opinion.