Dr. Dhurandhar’s Fat Loss Diet – Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar

Dr Dhurandhar's Fat-loss Diet: Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar: 9789352770304:  Amazon.com: Books

In the initial part of Dr. Dhurandhar’s book, the reader is provided a chilling perspective on the mushrooming of “quack nutritionists” and “quack dieticians” who unashamedly exploit the gullibility of a helpless section of people. A lady visits the clinic of Dr. Dhurandhar, hoping to receive a dietary regimen that would aid and assist in her desperate endeavours to shed weight. Whilst placing the cuff of the sphygmomanometer on her hand, Dr. Dhurandhar notices a blue-black bruise. Suspecting some sinister domestic incident, the doctor politely asks his patient about the bruise. Her response leaves him poleaxed – the bruises are part of an ongoing weight reduction therapy called “fat breaking treatment.” This astonishing method involves the practioner hitting his patients with a cricket bat all over the body so as to “break down the excess fat” literally! Dr. Dhurandhar immediately educates his patient about both the futility and dangers about this downright ludicrous treatment.

“Fat Loss Diet” is a practical, implementable and scientific foray into the Science of fat reduction written by a veritable authority on the subject. The son of India’s foremost obesity expert, Dr. Vinod Dhurandhar, Dr. Nikhil is a physician and nutritional biochemist who has been treating obesity from the past three and a half decades. Inducted into the US National Academy of Inventors, he is also the Professor and Chairman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech University. The author begins the book with a very articulate erudition on the interplay between three important hormones/chemicals that trigger appetites and also monitor the balance of fat content in the human body. “A chemical named leptin, travels to the brain via the bloodstream. Too little leptin signals to the brain that there is too little fat in the body whereas too much leptin means too much fat. The lesser your brain receives leptin, the more your brain makes you eat. Whereas, if you have too much fat, the brain notices too much leptin, tries to make you eat less, so you could lose some fat. Ghrelin is a tiny chemical messenger (a hormone) that is made by the gut and generates the feeling of hunger. The hormone tells the brain it is ‘time to eat’. PYY (peptide tyrosine tyrosine), tells your brain when the stomach is full and stops you from eating further. I suppose you are getting the picture. Our free will can still overrule the brain signals and we may eat even when the brain signal says we are full, or refuse to eat, even when the signal is that we are hungry.”

Dr. Dhurandhar places extreme importance on a diet that is strong in proteins. He also clarifies the single significant difference between “weight loss” and “fat loss”. Hence a need to guard against too much muscle loss that will invariably accompany a weight loss programme. Dr. Dhurandhar also warns his potential patients not to embark on a weight loss regimen unless they are mentally ready. A case in point is that of a member hailing from a royal family in India. Hoping to reduce a significant proportion of weight from his existing 110 kgs, he approached Dr. Dhurandhar. But the patient had two conditions. “He drank an entire bottle of scotch and twenty-two bottles of Coca Cola (there was no Diet Coke those days) every day. He did not want to reduce his scotch or Coke, but was prepared to reduce food a bit. Clearly, this was not going to work. A reasonable amount of alcohol could certainly be accommodated in a weight-loss diet. But, not a full bottle of scotch, every single day, let alone those bottles of sugary-sweet water. He was not ready, even though he said he was.” Accompanying a readiness from a mental perspective, care ought to be taken that there is no weight regain after the weight loss regimen period.

Any fat loss programme, according to Dr. Dhurandhar ought to embed three quintessential components:

  1. Adequacy: A diet plan that is low in calories, yet provides key nutrients needed for health;
  2. Applicability: While there is no size fits all approach, the diet should be tailored in such a way that it is relatively homogenous in its application to a large number of people; and  
  3. Quality of life: A carefully calibrated diet should not leave one famished. It should not be viewed by the patient as a punishment.

Ten Components of a Healthful Diet for Weight Loss

Dr. Dhurandhar also highlights ten key and critical components that are necessary in any healthy diet targeted for obese and overweight individuals. While it would be doing the book an injustice to reveal the ten components in exhaustive detail, here is encapsulating some of the salient elements in a nutshell:

Stay Hydrated. At least two litres of water must be uncompromisingly consumed during the period one is on a weight-loss diet;

Pay heed to “cell-healthy fats”. Even though oil, ghee, butter and cream might seem a sacrilege for a person striving to shed the extra pounds, these need to be consumed in moderation since fat is an essential of our body, skin, brain, cells and cell cover known as the cell membrane;

Bone-friendly milk: Unless and until the person dieting suffers from a case of lactose intolerance, milk should be an essential ingredient of the diet. Milk possesses good quality protein and calcium. Curds can be an adequate substitute as all the benefits of milk in terms of calcium and protein is bestowed by curd. In addition, curds will have gut-friendly bacteria which are helpful for the intestines and general health;

Fruits: Fruits provide fibre and vitamins. Fruits, when eaten raw, right after cutting them are rich in vitamin content;

Build up a Protein shield: Consuming protein increases fullness and protects one from feeling hungry. Strategically placed protein snacks at mid-morning and late afternoon protect you from excessive hunger and cravings during the day and at night, respectively.

The book also contains invaluable guidance and suggestion on exercise as a supplement to a diet programme and not a substitute. Dr. Dhurandhar reiterates the fact that the best exercise that would yield visible positive results when practiced religiously and in an uncompromising manner is level and slow walking. Contrary to myths that state that a person need to sweat profusely when exercising, Dr. Dhurandhar emphasizes that it is the regularity and commitment that matters more than intensity and rigour.

“Fat Loss Diet” is replete with implementable, rational and logical suggestions that encourage, inspire and induce positivity. No wonder Dr. Dhurandhar is held in such high esteem by one of Bollywood’s biggest and brightest talent’s Aamir Khan. Not only has the actor penned the foreword for this book, but he has also gladly consented a full disclosure of how he appropriated Dr. Dhurandhar’s assistance in undergoing a transformation from a grossly overweight wrestler to a fit and strong athlete in the film “Dangal”. The Chapter detailing the transformation jointly brought about by the doctor and his disciple makes for some fascinating reading.

Leaving the last words to the man himself: “Let me say this loud and clear – food does not ‘cause’ obesity, nor does greediness or laziness. Surprised? There is more. From now on, forget the words ‘weight loss’. It is ‘fat loss’ that you should be thinking about. Obesity needs a specific and strategic treatment plan because just trying to eat healthier and exercising more will not address the obesity concerns of most people. Furthermore, it is not true that to keep from regaining fat you should live like a sanyasi, giving up all the good things in life like tasty food and drinks and survive on only salads.”


Masquerading as the affected, they come, protest in droves

Unwilling to reason, they hold society to unwitting ransom in their throes

Appropriating the assistance of undesirable elements for their ’cause’

The sheer insanity and lunacy of it all sees no imminent pause

Strikes ought not to be a show of kitsch but a gathering for a purpose

Lest they diminish noble motives before in futility the people finally disperse.

(Word Count: 69)

Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt #198

Energy’s Digital Future: Harnessing Innovation for American Resilience and National Security – Amy Myers Jaffe

Energy's Digital Future | Columbia University Press

Amy Myers Jaffe, the Managing director of Climate Policy Lab and research professor at Tufts University Fletcher School, brings her enviable experience in the field of energy to bear in her revealing, relevant and rousing book, “Energy’s Digital Future.” In an era where the conventional concept of the term energy is almost turning out to be anachronistic, Jaffe’s book is all about the perils of creating path dependencies that may lock in the world in lock step with a set of infeasible alternatives, and the solutions that policy makers, individuals and institutions can employ to extricate the world from such path dependencies. Although primarily written from an American perspective, “Energy’s Digital Future” finds universal bearing across the globe, in so far as its core propositions are concerned.

Jaffe informs her readers that the concept of electric cars, that is assuming so much of traction these days, was birthed as early as in the 1900s when electric cars, taxis and trolleys were commonplace in the United States. General Electric even developed a charging hydrant called the “electrant” for these vehicles. In fact, Henry Ford and the inveterate inventor Thomas Edison were close to collaborating on a technology involving batteries. However the First World War put paid to the pioneering efforts of the two visionaries. The first path dependency on gasoline was created when in 1921, Thomas Midgley discovered the anti-knock properties of tetraethyl-leaded gasoline. Since then we have created an energy world with inter linked path dependencies that has seen trillions of dollars being sunk into pipelines, and behemoth oil and gas infrastructures.

But as the pitfalls of fossil fuels and the dangers of climate change are becoming all too real, the world is seeing a revolutionary and paradigm shift towards digital energy. We are moving towards what the late Nobel Prize winning chemist, Richard Smalley termed, ‘new basis for energy prosperity.’  Transformational technologies such as on-demand travel services, automated vehicles and robot taxis, data and GPS assisted logistics, decentralized electricity microgrids and 3-dimensional printing all pose significant challenges to the entrenched concept of traditional energy. Even though some of these technologies are extremely exorbitant, it is only a matter of time before the advantages bestowed by economies of scale would start kicking in making these novel technologies common.

However as Jaffe illustrates, the United States seems to be exhibiting a degree of lethargy in embracing this change. From opting out of the Paris Climate Accord (at the time of writing, President Joseph Biden has rescinded his predecessor’s decision, thereby reinstating the US back into the Paris Agreement) to scrimping on Research & Development, the world’s foremost superpower seems to be ceding miles and acreage to China, in the rapidly evolving spread of Digital Energy. Quoting Robert Atkinson, President of the Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, “to the extent the United States continues to lose technological capabilities to China, US technological advantage in defense over China will diminish, if not evaporate, as US capabilities wither and Chinese strengthen.” A classic case in point being the Digital collaborations being proposed by Xi Jing Ping under his grandiose Belt and Road Initiative, a gargantuan scheme that proposes to lock in a greater part of the world in a “China-dependent trap”.

Russia currently delivers 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day to China via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (“ESPO”) crude oil pipeline. These oil deliveries are a “payoff” for a whopping $25billion Chinese loan to the Russian pipeline entity Transneft and state oil monolith Rosneft. As acclaimed author, Bruno Macaes writes in his book, Belt And Road Initiative: A Chinese World Order, “in December 2017, Sri Lanka formally handed control of Hambantota port to China in exchange for writing down the country’s debt. Under a $1.1 billion deal, Chinese firms now hold a 70 percent stake in the port and a 99 year lease agreement to operate it.”

Whether it be in the realm of Solar Power, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics or Drone Technologies, China’s ambitions are untrammeled and unrestrained. However, such technologies represent dual-use capabilities, that is they can be employed for enhancing both civilian and military capabilities. Hence as Jaffe educates her readers, the aspersions cast over and the trepidations associated with Chinese firms such as ZTE and Huawei Technologies. The latter firm in particular, with a 15% global market share over 5G technology has been rumoured to be a state sponsored vehicle for aiding and abetting Intellectual Property (“IP”) theft.  

However it is not all gloom and doom for the US. This is where the meticulous, measured and methodical research of Jaffe finds resonance in the book. One can find inspiration in the innovation ecosystem that was incubated by DARPA that spawned revolutionary advances in the field of Science and Technology. With the burgeoning discoveries of shale in the Permian basin, the US has even become a net exporter of oil, thereby negating the doomsday prophesies of geologists and commentators such as Colin Campbell, Kenneth Deffeyes, Marion King Hubbert and the rest. Hence the US now needs to focus attention on “peak” demands rather than “peak” supplies. The single most important economic concept in the dynamics of climate change, according to the Yale Economist William Nordhaus is the “social cost of carbon.” This represents “cost in dollars of the long-term damage done by one ton of carbon dioxide in a given year.” This makes Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (“CCUS”) technologies critical.

Jaffe provides a set of recommendations which the US can mull about in gaining ascendancy over China and the rest of the world in a new Digital Energy future:

  • Creating public-private energy R&D partnerships modeled on the likes of Sematech (Semi-Conductor Manufacturing Technology). Sematech represented a consortium of 14 American semi-conductor manufacturers, and was instituted to counter the threat of Japanese expertise in the field of semi-conductor technology;
  • The US policy with respect to technologies such as AI, AVs and drones etc must take into account the potential of these technologies to reduce carbon emissions in sectors such as transportation, electricity and manufacturing;
  • Permitting utilities to share in revenue gains and cost savings from installing storage that can balance supply and demand on the grid and optimize system performance;
  • Facilitate utilities and owners to be “prosumers”, that is treating them as both owners and integrators of range of power suppliers;
  • Transparency on the part of autonomous fleet providers and owners in so far as collection and use of passenger data is concerned; and
  • A more nuanced policy in so far as ties with China are concerned in the areas of carbon capture and sequestration, Direct Air Capture, clean water technologies, health and food supplies

Alexander Karsner , a Senior Strategist at X, the innovation lab of Alphabet Inc describes an inflection point by using the phrase “Kodak Moment.” The United States might just be on the verge of such a Kodak Moment in so far, as the future and success of Digital Energies are concerned.

Amy Myers Jaffe’s timely and essential book might just have brought us a ticket for a ringside view of such an inflection point.

(Energy’s Digital Future: Harnessing Innovation for American Resilience and National Security by Amy Myers Jaffe is published by Columbia University Press, and will be released on the 13th of April, 2021)

The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds: The Yes Ban Story – Furquan Moharkan

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At the New Economy First Annual Banking and Finance Awards at London in the year 2008, India’s YES BANK was awarded the prestigious ‘Most Innovative Bank in India’ honour. Yet, just twelve years later there was placed a moratorium on the bank upon instructions from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The RBI superseded the Bank’s Board and appointed as an administrator, Within a day of the moratorium, the RBI had also proposed a reconstruction scheme under which the Indian Banking behemoth State Bank of India (‘SBI”) could take a maximum 49% stake in the restructured capital of the bank.

So how did a bank, which at one point in time was the fourth largest in India plummet to depths of despondency from an imperial pedestal of ascendancy? The answer, or at any rate the primary answer being, Rana Kapoor. The flamboyant co-founder of YES Bank operated in the form of an unfettered tyrant treating a service utility as a personal fiefdom and running it to ground by embracing a set of policies, downright unscrupulous.

Deccan Herald’s business correspondent, Furquan Moharkan, in his newly released book, “The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds”, tries to blow open the lid on the Rana Kapoor saga that brought a veritable bank down to its knees. Laced with interesting anecdotes and intriguing corroborations, Rana Kapoor’s escapades are both sordid and stunning. Living life to the hilt in a gaudy manner, Kapoor was given to flaunting wealth and power. As Moharkan illustrates the banker splurged Rs 1280 crore for an apartment block that sat on approximately 14,000 square feet, right next to Mukesh Ambani’s home Antilia. Rana was also bestowed with the moniker of “lender of the last resort.” Usually the sole prerogative of the RBI, this title provided ample testimony to YES Bank’s suspect lending practices with Rana at the helm. Charging a hefty upfront fee, which could be shown as ‘profits’ to boost the bank’s books, Rana had a chequered history of lending to failed and failing entities such as Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Essel Group, DHFL, Jet Airways, Cox & Kings, CG Power, among others.

YES Bank was incorporated by Rana Kapoor along with Harkirat Singh, formerly of Deutsche Bank and the banker responsible for Deutsche Bank’s first foray into venture capital with an investment in India’s first venture capital company, Indus Venture Capital India Private Limited, and Kapoor’s own brother-in-law, Ashok Kapur a former banker with stints at ABN Amro Bank and ANZ Grindlays Bank. Rana soon installed himself at the highest seat of power in the bank by unceremoniously ousting Harkirat and running roughshod over his brother in law. Ashok Kapur was tragically felled by a hail of terrorist bullets in the ghastly Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. In early 2003, Harkirat, set off to Mauritius for a family vacation. “Back in India, Rana thought of doing the unthinkable. He convinced Rabobank to place bets on him as managing director (MD) and CEO, and Ashok Kapur as the CEO. Till then, Harkirat was completely unaware of the decision. He came to know when he returned to India after a week. How were they able to pull it off? Apparently, Rana had bribed one of the senior Rabobank officials in India. ‘He had bribed a senior Rabobank guy with £1 million,’ one person, who was part of the redressal process between the three parties and knew the situation inside out, told me while I was writing this book”, informs Moharkan.

Rana was driven not only in his ambitions but also ultra-aggressive in his practices as well. Not only was Rana good at collection, he would also go to any extent to get the job done. “Once at YES Bank, he was not getting repayments from one of his small-and medium-scale enterprise borrowers. The client was out of the country. When he returned, Rana sent a car to receive him at the airport. From the airport, the borrower was directly driven to Rana’s cabin on the ninth floor of Nehru Centre. There, Rana, according to a former YES Bank employee present in that meeting, using Hindi cuss words told him: ‘Tune mera paisa liya hai. Tu lautaayega kya yeh paisa, warna tujhe uthaaunga (You have borrowed my money. If you don’t return it, I will get you kidnapped).”

Kapoor’s business model was encapsulated in a phenomenal piece carried by the Economic Times, post the collapse of YES Bank. According to the article, when a promoter of a mid-sized shipping company desperately wanted  Rs 3.5 billion and no bankers entertained him, Kapoor offered him a whopping Rs 5 billion over a period of 12 years. The condition was that the promoter was bound to pay Rs 500 million or 10% of sanctioned loan as an upfront fee.

Kapoor’s shocking banking practices were called out by the global financial services firm UBS in 2015, when it published a negative report about the asset quality of YES Bank’s books. As Moharkan informs, was the regular practice with YES Bank and Kapoor, a complaint was filed against UBS alleging that the findings were biased, motivated and unrealistic.

When the sun finally set on the Kapoor saga, “The bank had reported a staggering loss of Rs 18,564 crore in October–December. The loss is the biggest-ever quarterly loss by any bank in India, toppling the Rs 13,417 crore loss by the PNB in 2018 by over Rs 6100 crore. During the quarter, the bank’s gross bad loans surged to an astounding Rs 40,709.2 crore, more than doubling in just three months from Rs 17,134 crore. The gross NPA percentage of the bank stood at an unprecedented 18.87 per cent.”

However, what could otherwise have been a rousing and riveting book is marred and tarnished by an absolutely unforgivable editorial job (or a complete lack of it). The book is replete with grammatical and spelling errors, not to mention disjointed, and in some cases even incomplete sentences. It is unthinkable that a publisher of the repute of Penguin would totally fail in their basic responsibilities of performing even a rudimentary grammar check on a book before deeming it fit for ultimate publication. The errors riddling the book at times take away the very inclination of the reader to continue ploughing through the mess. The publishers would do well to redress this shockingly shoddy effort before printing the next edition at least.

For example consider this sentence: “Rana was appointed as consul for the Republic of Cyprus since 2002. In 2015, Rana was appointed as the consul general of the Republic of Cyprus, Maharashtra, at a time when a high-level delegation led by the President of Cyprus was planning to visit India in 2016…” Even a fallacy of Geography could not have succeeded in placing Cyprus squarely within the territory of Maharashtra.

Yet another blooper: “On 7 June 2015, he resigned as co-CEO of Deutsche Bank, along with Initially, Anshu was also accused of misleading German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) — a charge on which he was later given a clean chit.”

On the whole, “The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds” is a book that is both interesting as well as exasperating. Interesting for the content and exasperating for the unbelievable quantum of unimaginable and schoolboy editing errors littering the pages.

How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need – Bill Gates

Image result for How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need – Bill Gates

In one of the initial passages in his book, Bill Gates confesses that he might be an ‘imperfect messenger’ trying to convey the grave import of the cause and consequence of climate change. However, he goes on to transport that very same message in an admirable manner throughout the book. “How to Avoid A Climate Disaster” is more a primer into the perils of Climate change and the potential solutions that can be implemented in a practical manner to mitigate such risks, than a dense and impenetrable dissection of the associated Science. Gates exhorts his readers to be mindful, always, of two key numbers, 51 billion and 0. While the former represents the tonnes of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere on an annual basis, the latter number is the targeted emission rate that the world should aspire to achieve by 2050, at the latest. The usual suspects contributing to this gargantuan emission number are fossil fuels (responsible for approximately 27% of the emissions), manufacturing (contributing roughly 31% of the emissions), agriculture (18%), travel (16%), and residential and commercial heating devices (6%).

However, Gates also acknowledges that transitioning from fossil fuel to renewables and realtering the way in which we grow our food, manufacture our essentials and keep ourselves cozy would entail its own set of practical challenges and logical impediments. This is where the notion of a “Green Premium” kicks in. Green Premium is nothing but the difference in costs between a product that involves emitting carbon and an alternative that is absolutely carbon free. As Gates proceeds to illustrate, “the average retail price for a gallon of jet fuel in the United States over the past few years has been around $2.22, while advanced biofuels for jets cost around $5.35 per gallon. The Green Premium is the difference between the two, which is $3.13, or an increase of more than 140 percent.”

Gates also informs his readers that Gates that as a matter of principle he has made a conscious choice to divest his stakes in fossil fuel companies. “I don’t want to profit if their stock prices go up because we don’t develop zero-carbon alternatives.” But such divestments alone would not constitute solutions to the problem. What is needed is a concentrated, concrete and comprehensive structural set of global reforms that would lead to a convergence of thought, deed and word on the part of all the nations constituting our Planet. Gates’ idea is to formulate a set of measures and ideas that could be put into play at the ensuing 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, Cop26, in Glasgow. 

Drawing on the work of Vaclav Smil, an authoritative voice on the energy sector, Gates also demonstrates the challenges involved in transitioning between alternative energy sources. “In 1900, natural gas accounted for 1 percent of the world’s energy. It took seventy years to reach 20 percent. Nuclear fission went faster, going from 0 to 10 percent in 27 years. Between 1840 and 1900, coal went from 5 percent of the world’s energy supply to nearly 50 percent. But in the 60 years from 1930 to 1990, natural gas reached just 20 percent. In short, energy transitions take a long time.”

Gates admits his bias in one sphere of decarbonization in particular, electricity. He writes. “If a genie offered me one wish, a single breakthrough in just one activity that drives climate change, I’d pick making electricity: It’s going to play a big role in decarbonizing other parts of the physical economy.” Gates also dwells on the contributions made by the immortal Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug to the field of agriculture by using innovative techniques. Borlaug developed varieties of wheat with bigger grains and other characteristics that allowed them to provide much more food per acre of land—what farmers call raising the yield. However, as Gates illustrates the process of farming as well as consuming meat contributes its own bit to the dangers of carbon emission. A process scientifically termed enteric fermentation, causes bacteria inside the cow’s stomach to break down the cellulose in the plant, fermenting it and producing methane. This induces cows to belch and fart away, Gates highlights the advantages of cutting down on meat eating while not compromising on the taste of meat itself. “One option is plant-based meat: plant products that have been processed in various ways to mimic the taste of meat. I’ve been an investor in two companies that have plant-based meat products on the market right now—Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods— so I’m biased, but I have to say that artificial meat is pretty good. When prepared just right, it’s a convincing substitute for ground beef. And all of the alternatives out there are better for the environment, because they use much less land and water and are responsible for fewer emissions. You also need less grain to produce them, reducing the pressure on food crops and the use of fertilizers too. And it’s a huge boon for animal welfare whenever fewer livestock are being kept in small cages.”

Gates also talks in a passionate manner about the pioneering efforts of CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) in the realms of climate change. CGIAR research aims to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve human health and nutrition, and sustainable management of natural resources. It is carried out at 15 centers. A dizzying alphabet soup of CGIAR collaboration partners include Africa Rice Centre, CIFOR, ICARDA, ICRISAT, IFPRI, IITA, ILRI, ICIMMYT, CIP, IRRI, IWMI, CIAT, ICRAF and World Fish.

Gates concludes his book with a clarion call for governments, companies, investors and individuals to come together with a motive and purpose to bring down the Green Premium. While the Government can formulate relevant policies to either make the carbon-based version of something more expensive, or make the clean version cheaper, investors and corporates can change their buying behavior to employing cleaner alternatives, investing in research and development, supporting clean-energy entrepreneurs and startups, and advocating for helpful government policies. Finally, individuals can influence the market by their purchasing habits. Opting for an Electric Vehicle or a plant based food results in a powerful ‘signaling’ effect to which companies would ultimately have to pay heed.

Gates has the last word when he says, “We need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar,” pushing through “a consensus that doesn’t exist” and accelerating “a transition that would not happen otherwise.”

We may already be more than a tad bit too late.

The Novelist

Trudging through work in a manner monotonously lethargic

Sleeping through Zoom meetings, after perfecting this wonderful trick

Mired in processes and lost in many a robotic ritual

Then she picked up the pen and realised this call was her career victual

A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and how we should respond – Daniel Susskind

Image result for A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and how we should respond – Daniel Susskind

“A World Without Work”, sans any semblance of doubt has to be one of the most influential and powerful books penned in the 20th Century. Addressing a topical issue, the author, a Fellow in Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, sets out in a measured, methodical and meticulous style, the attendant challenges and the probable solutions. The issue dwelt by Daniel Susskind in his book is that of “technological unemployment.” The displacement of humans by machines is neither a novel concept nor an ingenious postulation. Right from the time, mankind has evolved as an intelligent species, convulsions of technology has played a seminal role in both development and displacement. However, to paraphrase Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, this time it may be different. An unimaginable surge in the esoteric realm of artificial intelligence has spawned a veritable ecosystem that is ripe for automation. Automation, that ensures that not only can machines perform more adroitly than human beings, but also exploit an exponential degree of bottom-up intelligence attribute to exacerbate productivity as well. A frightening case in point – the extraordinary exploits of Alpha Go that beat the prevailing board game “Go” champion Lee Seedol.

John Maynard Keynes is credited with popularizing the “technological unemployment”. The “Manure crisis” that plagued the United States during the 19th century and early parts of the 20th century amplified the tumultuous changes that technology could birth. 21 million horses trampling the streets of America plunged an entire nation under a stinking pile of manure. Just when it seemed that the nation would suffocate from the perils of ‘horseshit’, the motor car made an appearance.  At the time of writing this review the number of horses in the US hardly exceeds the 2 million mark. Similarly, the Industrial Revolution changed the very lexicon of work. The innovations in England during this period procreated a whole new form of technology that was hitherto unimagined. The inventions and innovations also led to disgruntlement and despair, when workers worried about their jobs being ‘taken away’ by technology began disrupting businesses and destroying machines. The terminology “Luddites” is a direct result of an apocryphal worker named Ned Ludd, who as an apprentice allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779 and thus became emblematic of machine destroyers.

But as Susskind illustrates with searing quality while technology is responsible for a substitution effect, it also produces a complementary force. This complementary force has three preternaturally beneficent effects, namely, the productivity effect, the bigger pie effect, and the changing pie effect. For example, bank tellers were in the dread of the havoc that automated teller machines or ATMs could wreak on their jobs. But as Susskind illustrates, the ATMs actually spurred customers to use banks more, thereby increasing the number of bank branches and also the number of bank tellers, who were freed up to do tasks other than dispensing cash.

This complementarity of technology was elucidated in great detail by the economists David Autor, Frank Levy, Richard Murnane. Their postulation now commonly known as the ALM Hypothesis, after the names of the proponents, highlights the fact that jobs are not colossal, but an agglomeration of tasks. Where the nature of the jobs are routing, they are ripe for being automated. Non-routine tasks are usually not amenable for automation. However, as Susskind informs his readers in a world characterized by rampant technology, the lines between routine and non-routine stand blurred. Lots of office jobs for example are assumed to be routine. This prompted the former Bank of England Governor and currently, Vice Chairman and Head of Impact Investing at Brookfield Asset Management, Mark Carney to exclaim that it was time for a “massacre of the Dilberts.” Machines of the modern era are not just capable of performing routine activities, but as AlphaGo illustrated in searing detail, are also extremely capable of executing tasks that require cognitive skills and affectations, traits that are ‘non-routine’ by all stretches of imagination. As the founder of Netscape founder and world renowned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen immortally said, “software is eating the world” and that in the end, there will be only two types of people left: those who program the machines, and everyone else. Susskind writes, “economists had thought that to accomplish a task, a computer had to follow explicit rules articulated by a human being — that machine capabilities had to begin with two-down application of human intelligence.” But machines are “now deriving entirely new rules, unrelated to those that human beings follow. This is not a semantic quibble, but a serious shift. Machines are no longer riding on the coattails of human intelligence.” However, pioneers in the field of technology and communication seem to be oblivious to this fact whether intentionally or in ignorance. When IBM’s Watson beat the reigning champions at ‘Jeopardy’, American scholar of cognitive science, physics, and comparative literature, and the Pulitzer Prize winner of the bestseller, “Gödel, Escher, Bach”, Douglas Hofstadter pooh poohed the achievement alleging that Watson was ‘vacuous.’ The philosopher John Searle, the mind behind the famous Chinese room experiment lamented that that by developing Deep Blue, IBM was giving up on the science of Artificial Intelligence.

Or take the example of the black-taxi drivers of London. The advent of GPS tools such as Waze have made the prodigious bank of “Knowledge” that is a pre-requisite for such drivers to procure a license, almost redundant. Having said that, Susskind argues that the pace of automation would neither be uniform nor harmonious. The progress of automation will take place at different paces in different places, not least because the cost of the alternative to automation will vary. Countries aging faster will automate faster, while legislation and cultural proclivities will exert a huge influence  in setting the automation pace. But in the end analysis, there is no eliding automation. “Nothing is certain in life except death, taxes, and the relentless process of task encroachment.”

Such a “task encroachment”, Susskind opines, leads to two kinds of unemployment: frictional, and then structural. Frictional technological unemployment refers to a paradoxical situation where while there are still jobs, not everybody is adequately equipped to handle them. Structural technological unemployment on the other hand arises when a human is replaced in one job, and even though the productivity effect, the bigger pie effect or the changing pie effect means that another job is created, that new job is performed by a machine, and not by the displaced human. David Schloss, a British economist, presciently predicted way back in 1892 that there is no guarantee that the additional work will always be done by humans instead of machines.

Susskind labels himself as a technological realist, and not an apologist for technological determinism. Hence his exhortation that technology would lead to positive progress in so far as alleviation of poverty and income inequality go. But what should be the strategy to be adopted by economies when almost 25% of the workforce is expected to be permanently displaced and dislocated even? One potential solution could be the role that a ‘Big State’ could possibly play to alleviate the tumultuousness caused by unemployment. Such a Big State will take on the responsibilities of redistributing income and wealth. The State can also raise taxes steeply, and clamp down on siphoning of wealth to tax havens.

Another solution could be Conditional Basic Income (“CBI”) instead of the commonly advocated Universal Basic Income (“UBI”). He expresses an understandable degree of skepticism when he writes that he cannot envisage the futility involved in making available a sum in the form of UBI to say, a Mark Zuckerberg. Susskind also calls for restricting the economic might and political power of the disruptive “Big Tech”. Most importantly, Susskind proposes that we would need to alter in a paradigm manner, the concepts of how, when and what we teach. Embellishing the taken for granted “STEM” skills or a targeted focus on the liberal arts would prove to be helpful to address the issue of frictional unemployment. The need of the hour is an education system that makes even leisure productive.

Susskind has all his tracks covered – and much more!

Death by Aesthetics: The Rohit Sharma Way

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(Image Credit: CricTracker.com)

Cricketing tracks that play truant in terms of reneging on their responsibility to last the routine duration of a game are commonly referred to as minefields, dustbowls etc. When England spinner Jack Leach, landed a hard new ball that was just 9.1 overs old (or young), on a good length at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on the 13th of February 2021, both India and England knew that they had more than just a misbehaving pitch on hand. A veritable explosion resulted from the spot where the ball landed. The scurrilous puff of dust had laid the ominous template for the rest of the game, and also, in all probability for the series as well. A series where the visitors led by Joe Root had their noses in front after besting India at the same venue a week before.

The writer S.S.Van Dine, in his “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories”, set out twenty quintessential elements that were vital for a crime or a mystery novel to succeed. Unfortunately, no similar recommendations exist for instructing batsmen to survive the vagaries of a track characterized by spiteful bounce and vicious turn. No more can anyone teach a batsman to protect his wicket on an unpredictable track than can one instruct a brave soldier to survive artillery barrages in the course of a trench warfare. The harsh reality here is ‘each one onto his own.’ This is exactly the situation which the Indian batsmen found themselves in, on an otherwise bright and sunny Chennai morning. The home team seemed to have squandered away a critical toss when in a grave error of judgment, young Shubman Gill shouldered arms to a lightning fast straight one from Olly Stone that saw him trapped plumb in front. As dead as a dodo for a blob. The prospects for an Indian revival seemed to be obfuscated by pixie dusts of doom when spin was introduced earlier than usual, and the pitch seemed to accommodate the entrants with more than a mere tinge of benevolence.

Batsmen over the course of their career develop their own methods to counter tracks that are unusual suspects. While the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara wage an attritional warfare, the clan of Rishabh Pant attempts to negate the malice of the pitch by resorting to pure and uninhibited aggression. But there is a unique breed of batsmen that cock a snook at both attrition and aggression. This singularly peculiar variety places its bet on pure aesthetics. A pioneer of this unusual method is Rohit Sharma. No batsman has this unimaginable propensity to exasperate a fan than this elegant right hander and the skipper of Mumbai Indians. Languid, lithe and lambent, Rohit Sharma has supple wrists, sublime stroke making and seraphic timing. Yet, more often than not his batting is a ‘gedankenexperiment’. People are left wondering what could have been than what actually has been. Just when he seems to be getting into a fluent and flawless rhythm, Rohit Sharma executes a shot which even Rohit Sharma would be wont to avoid thereby sacrificing his wicket. But on the days his strategy comes up trump, he is an epitome of incandescence.

The sparse Chennai crowd (the reduction being a necessity on account of the COVID-19 pandemic), on the 13th of February was lucky to witness a Rohit Sharma experiment come good. The opener oblivious to the early loss of Gill, set about collaring an honest and hard working English bowling attack comprising Stuart Broad, Olly Stone, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach. Rohit Sharma does not ‘smite’ sixes, he just assists the ball on its journey over the ropes. Rohit Sharma does not crunch or smash boundaries, he just whispers to the ball and munificently provides the direction which it needs to take for it to speed away towards the boundary ropes. In the contemporary history of the gentleman’s game, Rohit Sharma is the equivalent of Caesar Milan. Rohit Sharma is the ultimate “ball whisperer”. Ignoring the vicissitudes of a dangerous pitch, Sharma drove with elan, pulled with panache and flicked with exquisite grace. The preternatural gift of timing that has made him such a dangerous batsman, held friends and foes alike in thrall. Sharma also dusted off the closet a powerful weapon in the form of the sweep. A shot which he had abhorred during the course of the first test, the sweep turned out to be a trusted ally. Not allowing either Moeen or Leach to settle, Sharma swept them off on length to propitious results. An 85 run partnership with the obdurate Pujara was followed by a gargantuan 161 run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane. This after Captain Kohli was bamboozled and bewildered before being bested by a beauty by Moeen Ali. A ball that had drift, dip, deceit and direction.

Rohit Sharma, however, was like C.S.Forester’s boy who stood on the burning deck. When an entire philharmonic was at sixes and sevens, a single musician seemed to have orchestrated a symphony. Adept on the front foot and adroit on the back, Sharma, cut, pulled and drove with utter disdain. He was putting on an exhibition that was resplendent in quality and rewarding in quantity. He did all of this without  seemingly expending a drop of sweat. The only physical discomfiture or exertion seemed to be the raising of the bat three times to signify scores of 50,100 and 150. When finally, Sharma perished sweeping Leach into the hands of Moeen Ali, his side was not just heaving a sigh of relief, but also ensconced in a cocoon of comfort. Sharma’s lambent 161 had placed India in a position of  ascendancy if not utter dominance.

Livid with himself, on playing a ‘faulty’ shot, Sharma admonished himself by throwing his head back and swinging his bat with the frenzy of a man possessed. But he had done his duty. In fact, the man had transcended his call of duty by rising to the occasion in a manner that was inimitable and indomitable. Rohit Sharma has pulled off a trick which only Rohit Sharma was capable of. A trick resplendent in its import and imminence.

Meanwhile, it is time for day 2 of the Trench warfare and Rishabh Pant to hold the Indian tricolour aloft and afloat.

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection – Michael Chabon

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For a crime novel or a novella to be penned, it is almost taken for granted that a de riguer template is an indispensable necessity. Or at least this was what S.S.Van Dine insisted with his “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” In addition to the compulsory presence of the detective, triggered by the committing of a heinous crime, a few other unavoidable accoutrements need to partner the crime and its solver. Clues, that are both apparent and hidden, an unbiased attitude on the part of the detective etc.

We are not privy to the fact as to whether or not Van Dine influenced the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, but in “Final Solution”, Michael Chabon dishes up a delectable feast for his readers. The throes of the Holocaust are hauntingly imminent as they permeate the pages of the book, yet remaining startlingly invisible. While the octogenarian detective is never mentioned by name, an unmistakable allusion to his trusted companion, the magnifying glass, around whose bezel, “an affectionate inscription from the sole great friend of his life” can be found, leaves us in no dilemma that the protagonist in question is none other than Sherlock Holmes. “The Final Solution” might also be a clever take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” A disquieting problem where Holmes plummets to his unfortunate and untimely death at the Reichenbach Falls while grappling with his nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, only to resurrect at the hands of his creator on account of immense pressure from the fans of the series.

A nine year old Jewish boy named Linus Steinmann, who is wont to keep a permanent silence has an exotic parrot for company. Given to reciting bits and scraps of Goethe and Schiller, in addition to the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan, the peculiar parrot named Bruno also reels out incoherent and inchoate sequences of German numbers. This singularly peculiar habit of the parrot in spewing out numerals raises more than just eyebrows when it is ascertained that Steinmann is a refugee from Nazi Germany. Could these seemingly senseless numbers contain the key to treasures unimagined such as Nazi Codes or Swiss Bank Accounts? Things take a murky turn when the parrot is mysteriously abducted and a newest occupant of the vicarage where the boy resides is found murdered with a great bit of the back of his head caved in. When all suspicious land on the wastrel of a son of the vicar, Reggie Panicker (the Senior Mr. Panicker being a native of Kerala who comes to settle in England as a result of marriage to his senior’s daughter), the distraught Panickers have nowhere to go but to the legendary aging bee keeper who as per legendary folklore has bested innumerable foes and solved the impossible of mysteries.

With obstinate knees that creak and a withered body that aches and groans, Holmes sets out solve both the mystery relating to the abduction of the parrot, and the brutal murder of the latest occupant of the vicarage. The penultimate chapter of the book is entirely narrated from Bruno’s perspective thus making for some picturesque reading. There are unmissable shades of Joseph Conrad, especially in the final two chapters.

The book ends with Holmes ruminating wistfully on the welcome prospect of a smile on the boy’s face which otherwise is set in a perpetual state of grimness. “The business of detection has for so many years been caught up with questions of remuneration and reward that although he was by now long beyond such concerns he felt, with surprising vigor, that the boy owed him the payment of a smile.”