RAND Corporation Associate Policy Researcher Jonathan Wong

They Used to Call Me 'Air-Nerd'

RAND Corporation Associate Policy Researcher Jonathan Wong | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Photo by Aaron Salcido.

Jonathan Wong is an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, where he focuses on military force development, including the role of new technologies, processes, and concepts in shaping how militaries fight. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an enlisted infantryman, infantry officer, and manpower planner. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Getty panel, “Is Civilization on the Verge of Collapse?,” at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Wong spoke in the green room about his taste in bread, his love for surfing, and his nickname on the basketball court.

Q:

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?


A:

L.A. Confidential, which I had not read before; I was a big fan of the movie. Ever since my family and I moved back to L.A., I wanted to get to know L.A. a little bit more.


Q:

What’s the last board game you played?


A:

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game with my son yesterday. He got it for his birthday; he’s 4. It is ingeniously cleverly designed for a four-year-old. It’s complex enough that I’m not completely bored out of my mind, but it’s right for him.


Q:

I read that you’re a surfer. What’s your favorite break in Southern California?


A:

I try to be. It would have to be Black’s Beach in San Diego. It is hard to get to. You have to walk down kind of a narrow cliff. It’s even harder to get back up because you’re probably tired after that, but it is one of the best beach breaks in the continent of the United States.


Q:

Do you longboard or shortboard?


A:

Shortboard mostly. But I think I’m getting old enough where I’m getting more attracted to something bigger, wider, more buoyant. So I have a longboard, and I find myself using it more and more often now.


Q:

When do you wake up and what do you wake up to?


A:

Somewhere between 5:30 and 6 a.m., depending on how many times I hit snooze. I wake up to whatever the default alarm is on my iPhone.


Q:

Did you have any nicknames as a kid?


A:

Yes. I’m reluctant to say so. I loved to play basketball when I was a kid; I don’t play anymore. They used to call me 'Air-Nerd,' because I started wearing glasses pretty early on. And uh, I had some pretty good hops for a fourth grader. I can’t believe I just said that.


Q:

What’s your greatest extravagance?


A:

This is gonna sound so bougie. There’s this bakery called Gjusta in Venice. … And instead of like the usual store-bought bread that most people get by with just fine, I insist on buying this extravagantly expensive but just deliciously good Gjusta bread. It’s awesome.


Q:

What was your most frustrating project?


A:

It was probably when I was a Marine and it was 2009 and we were getting ready to leave Iraq in a big way. And I was in charge of kind of transferring a lot of the civil reconstruction projects we had done to the Iraqi government. And it was just a lot of us military very-go-get-em, type-A personalities, and it was just not the way that things worked over there.


Q:

What do you do to decompress?


A:

I read actually. No matter how late at night it is, after I put the kids to bed, I get the dishes done, [and] I always spend about half an hour to 45 minutes reading. I can’t go to bed without it.


Q:

What was the first album you bought?


A:

Ha. Weezer’s first album. It was on cassette. It was at the Wherehouse, which no longer exists. It was pretty good. I don’t have the tape anymore, but I still listen to Weezer.


Q:

If you didn’t live in the United States, where would you live?


A:

Sydney; it’s like L.A. but cleaner and more awesome and kinda upside-down. I really love Sydney. I’d settle for Brisbane. It’s like the San Diego of Australia; great surfing, pretty awesome.