ELEVATION – STEPHEN KING

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“Elevation” (“The Book”) is more Haruki Murakami than Stephen King. And this radical realization is what makes the book frighteningly marvelous. If this comes across as leveling an allegation of imitation, then I beg forgiveness from Mr. King. The comparison is solely, exclusively and sincerely restricted to the mystique at the periphery that beautifully complements the majesty forming the core.

In the quaint and unassuming town of Castle Rock known more for its formidable grape vine than the fascinating sweep of urbanization, forty-two-year-old Scott Carey has on his hands a unique medical problem weighing upon him literally. Rapidly losing oodles of weight without even a semblance of change in either fitness or fat, Carey is left facing a contradiction between a rapidly dipping scale and an increasingly refreshing disposition. Unwilling to become a medical exhibit of involuntary repute and irritating fame, Carey confides his predicament to his friend and the by now retired septuagenarian doctor, Billy. Both the experienced doctor and his exasperated confidant are at their wit’s end trying to unearth the primary cause behind their confounding predicament.

Castle Rock, at this juncture finds itself playing host to two women who are married to one another, and who also happen to be enterprising chefs trying to make their mark in the catering industry. Because of their relationship, Deirdre McCoomb and her wife Missy Donaldson are met with apprehension and anger by the populace of Castle Rock.

When both Deidre McCoomb with her icy disposition and Scott Carey enroll in the annual Thanksgiving 12 Kilometer run, their destinies undergo a transformation the likes of which could never have been envisaged by either of them, even in their wildest fantasies!

King, in this short but wonderfully resonant book sizzles and manages to strike an emotional and evocative chord with his reader. The physical plight challenging Cary and the societal stigma beleaguering Missy and McCoomb both have a common thread running through them. They both unify and cleave. The racy narrative and the incredibly ingenious plot are putting it mildly – dazzling. King has this extraordinary ability to be prosaic yet profound. Abhorring verbal bombast and convoluted story-telling, the master of the mysterious is at his usual matter-of-fact method. A method that is singularly magnificent and simply sensational. These attributes find a higher ‘elevation’ and a broader calling in this latest work. A very ‘un-Stephen-King’ like work, yet bearing his unmistakable imprimatur, Elevation might signal the entry of a restored, rebooted and reformulated author whose likes are indeed a rarity.

If this is actually the case, then the literary world better watch out. There is a new ‘Shining’ star that is raring to set the horizon alight!

The Fifth Risk – Michael Lewis

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If Michael Lewis was to pen a 1,000 pager on the philosophical disposition of ants, that treatise would undoubtedly stand on top of the bestseller pile. Ushering in an Avant garde style of writing that has technology for a back bone, intuition for a brain and an indomitable imprimatur that breathes life into the overall structure, this phenomenal author has regaled his audience repeatedly over the course of many years. While his latest book “The Fifth Risk” (“the book”) is no exception, it however marks a significant departure from his erstwhile books. This book is an exception in spite of not being one! “The Fifth Risk” is a paean to the unsung, a deification of the unseen and a tribute to the unassuming. These stellar characters comprise the multitude of non-decrepit men and women who form an integral part of the American federal work force. It is this very bunch of selfless heroes who have been totally neglected by the Trump administration.

Focusing on three obscure Government agencies, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, Lewis elects to elevate (deservingly so) the bureaucrats working tirelessly to ensure that the American populace lead a life of relative comfort and safety. The raison d’être characterizing the selection of these three departments is a reason that is extraordinarily close to Lewis’ heart – a relentless churning of an improbable quantity of humongous data. It is the effort of these indomitable yet isolated soldiers that Lewis intends to celebrate when he states, “We don’t really celebrate the accomplishments of government employees They exist in our society to take the blame.”

At the core and crux of this page turner is the ridiculous transition period (or an utter disregard of the same by Messrs. Trump and Co) between the controversial 2016 election and President Trump’s inauguration. It is common knowledge and a statutory necessity that every outgoing administration assists the incoming party prepare to understand the at times mystical workings of a myriad departments, agencies and functions of government. While true to this tenet, the Obama administration spent invaluable time preparing exhaustive briefing books and presentations for their successors, irrespective of the party to which they belonged, the bureaucrats were in for a rude shock. The successors just refused to turn up! Paraphrasing a former top official in the Energy Department “We had tried desperately to prepare them, but that required them to show up. And bring qualified people. But they didn’t.”  A gob smacking lapse considering the nuances and intricacies involved in manning and running these departments. John MacWilliams, a former investment banker turned Energy sector expert who was initially goaded by Obama to make the Department of Energy his home, elucidates in a matter of fact manner, the complicated rubric that runs throughout the Department. “Everything was acronyms, I understood 20 to 30 percent of what people were talking about. There were physicists everywhere. Guys whose ties don’t match their suits. Passive nerds. Guys who build bridges.”

When the Trump administration finally showed up, it was an unparalleled exhibition of utter disaster. Not possessing the requisite security clearances, some of the Trump officials displayed blatant disinterest and flagrant disregard. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture staffers had prepared 2,300 pages of materials, but the Republican staffers failed to show up until a month after the election, and when they showed up, they were just HIM – yes just a solitary individual. Demonstrating a blatant and myopic ideology, the Trump administration queried the Energy Department for lists of staffers who had worked on climate change, or going one regressive step further, instructing the USDA to stop using the term “climate change” altogether.

This lackadaisical attitude has resulted in an intolerable and undesirable disruption in the hitherto smooth working of the important Government machineries. As Lewis emphasizes, “Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: pandemics, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, but most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode.”

In fact, it might have been a blessing in disguise if the Trump “landing teams” had failed to put in an appearance. When the President elect’s team finally turned up, it was for the worse. Donald Trump appointed the former Texas governor Rick Perry as energy secretary. The vituperative Perry, who once said he wanted to abolish the Energy department (he also wanted to abolish Commerce and Education), didn’t ask for a briefing on any D.O.E. program when he arrived. The de facto and de jure person in charge was Thomas Pyle, a lobbyist funded by the epitome of capitalism Koch Industries and the beachhead of the oil and gas industry, ExxonMobil. Tarak Shah, chief of staff for the department’s $6 billion basic-science program says “We had tried desperately to prepare them … but that required them to show up. And bring qualified people. But they didn’t. They didn’t ask for even an introductory briefing. Like, ‘What do you do?’”

“The Fifth Risk” is a study in contrasts. On one end of the administrative continuum, we have the likes of Kathy Sullivan, a geologist and astronaut (the first American woman to walk in space) who was in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and whose endeavors included repairing NOAA’s polar-satellites program as well as studying how people can better respond to weather emergency notifications — thereby boosting their chances of survival. On the other extreme end of a continuum, there is the lethargic Trump administration rooted in ignorance and reeking with arrogance. As Lewis summarises, “If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems, there is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier.”

“The Fifth Risk” is a rousing story of an unfortunate disconnect between honesty and haughtiness. It is also the chronicle of a discord that has at its edifice the very future of a population constituting the largest democracy on the Planet. More than everything else it is a brilliant demonstration of the obnoxious trajectory that an ideological administration is set upon to the overall detriment of an entire nation. The entire book can be encapsulated in a paragraph where a visibly upset and raging Trump goes ballistic upon being informed that his transition planners were raising funds to pay for staff. “You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my f—ing money!” Trump screamed at a befuddled and bemused Chris Christie.

Yes, there has been a theft. But as Lewis brilliantly illustrates, it has been a theft of confidence, a pillaging of conviction and a pilfering of caution. Right now American democracy is unfortunately deemed by a prejudiced Trump leadership to be one, by the ignorant, for the ignorant and of the ignorant.

The Perils of Perception:Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything – Bobby Duffy


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Is the Great Wall of China visible from Outer Space? My answer to this seemingly innocuous question would have been a resounding yes until I happened to read “The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything” (“the book”) by Bobby Duffy. A Managing Director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and also the Global Director of Ipsos Social Research Institute, Mr. Duffy brings to bear his prodigious statistical expertise and experience in delivery a myth busting work that makes you think twice before even thinking. In The Perils of Perception, which surprisingly happens to be Mr. Duffy’s first book, the author attempts to tackle the various social, emotional, and cultural factors that converge and conflate to birth misperception. As he is quick to point out at the commencement of his work, Mr. Duffy makes a distinction (although “fine”) between misperception and ignorance. To paraphrase him, “ignorance means literally ‘to not know’ or to be unacquainted with. Misperceptions, however, are a positive misunderstanding of reality………”

The great Israeli American psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics, Daniel Kahnemann (in the company of his late redoubtable colleague Amos Tversky), has been the torch bearer and very beacon in pioneering the efforts to both understand and challenge the assumptions of human rationality. Mr. Duffy also treads the same path of empiricism in highlighting to his readers the perils of perception that characterizes the various assumptions, which, otherwise are perceived to be accepted wisdom or common place conventions.

True to the sub-title of his book, Mr. Duffy takes on various issues of topical importance that have a bearing and influence over how we as human beings go about our personal and professional endeavours, and regarding which there are extraordinary differences at what seems to be two extreme ends of an incredible continuum. From estimates about consumption of sugar to the prevalence of obesity and conflicting emotions undergirding the need for and abhorrence to vaccinations, Mr. Duffy demonstrates by way of extraordinary surveys and statistics, the differing (and wrongful) perceptions of the respondents to such surveys. Sample this startling fact: “three in five people across the countries as a whole were unsure, or believed that there is a link between vaccine and autism in healthy children.”

What is the underlying rationale behind such irrational thinking? Mr. Duffy elucidates that all varied explanations of our misperceptions can be classified into two groups: how we think and what we are told. Mr. Duffy talks about ‘emotional innumeracy’, “a theory which proposes that when we are wrong about a social reality, cause and effect may well run in both directions. For example, say that people over estimate the level of crime in their country. Do they over estimate crime because they are concerned about it, or are they concerned about it because they over estimate it?” In this particular case, Mr. Duffy proposes that it is a bit of both. Mr. Duffy also presents a vital link between our misperceptions and the media. “It (media) is still a vital actor in the system creating and reinforcing misperceptions. However, the media more generally is not actually the most important root cause of our misperceptions, though it is influential: we get the media we deserve or demand.”  It is not hard to fathom this logic especially in times where a referendum to either Remain or Leave the European Union is influenced by preposterous claims pasted boldly on the sides of buses, and where a dangerous clarion call of ‘nativism’ results in the election of a virtual demagogue to the highest office of the world’s oldest and powerful democracy. Not to mention a word about the dangerous dalliance between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that had in the eye of its storm, the minds, decisions and future of 87 million human beings.

The book makes for a stirring and thought provoking read. We are made to get a contrasting glimpse of enthusiastic radical optimists and somber prophets of doom as they go about breathing life into myriad surveys. The moral arc of the respondents to the survey seemed to seek their curve depending upon the nature of information fed to them. For instance, the relationship between public concern about immigration, net migration and media coverage of the issue presented an interesting tendency: immigration numbers rise before the media and then the public notice. Also attitudes to immigration were starkly different depending on the respondents’ preferred choice of media.

Ronald Harry Coase the late a British economist and the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School and also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991, once famously exclaimed, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.” Mr. Duffy in his highly engaging book, not only concurs with Coase but also produces his own proofs.

After treating the foible of misperception in great detail and depth, Mr. Duffy, then proceeds to provide a ‘checklist’ for managing our misperceptions. Exhorting us to “cultivate skepticism, but not cynicism”, goading us to “accept the emotion, but challenge the thought”, Mr. Duffy exudes confidence in the fact that “things are not as bad as we think – and most things are getting better.”  It is with this very positive exultation that I nurse my only reservation with what otherwise is a marvelous piece of work. Mr. Duffy with his ‘Pinkeresque’ conviction about the world being a better place to live now as compared with the past, might be misconstrued as urging his readers to view the Planet that we inhabit with rose tinted glasses. Even though one of the items in his ‘managing misperception’ checklist is ‘fact checking’, an unsuspecting reader might be forgiven in harbouring the impression that his erudite author is not averse to producing a paean to Pollyanna. One classic example being the subject of poverty. Mr. Duffy expostulates that “just one in ten correctly identified that extreme poverty has halved in the last 20 years.” While there is no disputing the fact that world now is definitely a more positive and healthy place than what it was two decades ago, the measure of ‘extreme poverty’ and its definitions may be subject to a myriad of interpretations and a plethora of contrasts. This shenanigans of Statistics may have the undesirable outcome of flattering to deceive.

As Thomas Pogge poignantly pointed out, “the morally relevant comparison of existing poverty is not with historical benchmarks, but with present possibilities: How much of this poverty is really unavoidable today? By this standard our generation is doing worse than any in human history.”  Also as Jason Hickel, painstakingly and adroitly shows in his phenomenal treatise “The Divide”, “the present International Poverty Line (“IPL”) theoretically reflects what $1.25 could buy in the United States in 2005. But the US Government itself calculated that in 2005, the average person needed at least $4.48 per day simply to meet minimum nutritional requirements, and that is to say nothing of housing and other costs necessary for basic survival.”  This and the preceding paragraphs are by no means either illustrative of a negative opinion or a criticism of Mr. Duffy’s work. It is just an instructive attempt to show that the tool of statistics can, – in fact is – a double edged sword.

“The Perils of Perception” by Mr. Duffy is an invigorating, timely and essential read. This is a book that needs to be not just read, but absorbed and assimilated, more so in a world where ‘truthism’ competes with ‘fake news’ for attention and ‘post-truths’ and propaganda walk in lockstep. By the way, The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from outer space. For all you skeptics, since the legendary Neil Armstrong is no longer amidst us to prove this fact, the next best clarifying port of call would be Mr. Bobby Duffy.

Over to you Mr. Duffy!

The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World On Fire – Neil Irwin

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“Uneasy is the head that wears the crown”, proclaimed the immortal Bard of Avon in his gripping play, King Henry the Fourth. What William Shalespeare left unsaid however, was that such unease is exacerbated manifold especially when one happens to ascend to the position of a Central Banker. Hurl into the already formidable conundrum a financial recession that has the potential not only to slam the brakes on world prosperity but also pull the very rugs of stability from underneath the globally interconnected economic edifice, the Crown of the Central Banker is but a coronation heralding an ensuing crucifixion!

Neil Irwin, in his spectacular work “The Alchemists” (the book) chronicles with delightful clarity the tumult and turmoil faced by three redoubtable Central Bankers when the whole world around them went rogue in a tailspin of sheer insanity. Ben Bernanke, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve in the United States, Jean Claude-Trichet, the then President of the European Central Bank (“ECB”) and the then Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King were three reluctant firefighters who were involuntarily entrusted with the onerous responsibility of rescuing a world gone mad.

Before explaining the measures implemented by the three protagonists, Irwin dishes out an alluring hors d’oeuvres in the form of an introduction to the advent of Central Banking. From the exploits of Johan Palmstruch in Sweden to the prescience of Walter Bagehot in England, Irwin traces the evolution, endurance and etiology of the now commonly accepted and taken-for-granted lender of last resort. Coming to the core aspect of his subject, Irwin then provide a fascinating ringside view of the greatest recession since the Great Depression of 1929, that brought the world to its knees before being tackled employing means both novel and random. Irwin highlights in a staid albeit powerfully convincing manner, both the need for a strong Central banking system and its manning by a set of articulate and talented central bankers. To paraphrase Irwin, “Central bankers determine whether people can get jobs, whether their savings are secure, and, ultimately, whether their nation prospers or fails.” The individuals who were mercilessly pilloried and remorselessly vilified as forming part of the very problem which they were attempting to resolve during the panic of 2007 thus get more than just a reprieve and a pat on the back from Irwin.

The three different personalities of Bernanke, King and Trichet working in tandem as well as in individual capacities attempted to weather the financial storm by bringing their astuteness and at times even arrogance to bear. As Irwin points out, they also stumbled quite a bit in the process. While the obstinate troika of the ECB, the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) and the European Commission (“EC”) urged on by the Bundesbank imposed ludicrous conditions of austerity on an ailing Greece in consideration of a bail-out, the Eurozone was under the threat of a potential dismantling. To a great extent the financial crisis was brought about by the lax and lackadaisical supervision of the Fed as mortgage originators went on the rampage in the United States and the greedy Wall Street Bankers cranked up their machinery that produced mind numbingly complex financial products whose worth or uselessness lent themselves to prediction of any reasonable sort.

Irwin’s marvelous book also boasts of some aesthetic touches. In recounting how a 2011 celebration, at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt’s historic opera house, to mark Trichet’s retirement, transformed into an argument among the assembled European leaders, Irwin writes, “As Trichet and Merkel and Sarkozy hammered at each other in their back room, no resolution to be found, the notes of Mendelssohn’s finale echoed through the building, the music as jolly as the outlook for Europe was looking dismal.”

Irwin also provides an insight into the extremely complex process by which the countries forming part of the Eurozone achieve unanimity in all decisions having an impact on the monetary and fiscal prospects of the Eurozone. Potential beneficiaries are rendered irrelevant as stringent demands and strident conditions are imposed upon them as considerations for a potential bail-out. The actions of Germany and France who while maintaining an uneasy relationship amongst them are also paradoxically ‘joined at the hip’ make for some rousing reading.

“The Alchemists” while not attempting to deify the central bankers as they go about their unenviable work, strives to place them on a pedestal that is exalted, edifying and certainly enervating.

Whether such a pedestal is indeed a deserving honour, is a choice that is left to the readers to decide.

NO SPIN – SHANE WARNE (WITH MARK NICHOLAS)

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Shane Keith Warne’s only approach towards the game of cricket was one rooted in intensity. An approach that never took any prisoners and brooked no opposition. An aggressive in-your-face, no holds barred attitude, which more likely than not, won a multitude of games for Australia, some of which literally involved wresting victory from the gaping jaws of defeat! It is this same barn burning tactic which the ‘Sultan of Spin’ brings to the fore in his recent offering, an autobiography that is unsurprisingly titled, “No Spin”. Written along with the redoubtable Mark Nicholas, “No Spin” (“the book”) is explosive, energetic and in more passages than some, extraordinary.

Unashamed in content and unsparing in context, Shane Warne’s memoir is to put it mildly – an eclectic collection of exploits and eccentricities. Delectable on-field performances clash with deplorable off the field adventures, (misadventures rather), as Warne strives to lay bare the various nuances which both constitutes his persona and makes it tick. Whether it be the magic ‘ball of the century’ which heralded the entry into the cricketing world, of the greatest leg spinner (or arguably even bowler) in the history of the game – but not before leaving Mike Gatting in a shambolic state of befuddlement – or an immoral tryst that involved two women and an inflatable sex toy (yes you read that right), Shane Warne’s life has been a roller coaster saga whose sweep has been unbelievably broad to embrace within its ambit the admirable and the abominable. The awe-inspiring magician who could change the course of any form of the game with an unparalleled sleight of hand could also be a naive man who was forced to miss a World Cup for his country after swallowing a diuretic, courtesy the educated recommendation of his mother!

Mark Nicholas and Shane Warne take on in an uninhibited manner the task of reconciling the very cleave which, while lending an aura of invincibility to Warne the cricketer, also births an attribute of vulnerability, in Warne, the human being. The Monarch of all he surveys within and around the twenty-two yards of many a hallowed cricketing turfs across the world is reduced to remaining a torn individual racked by a plethora of emotions outside of the playing arena.

The inimitable and abrasive personality of Shane Warne, inevitably results not just in differences of opinion but also in simmering feuds. Shane Warne, in his book reignites one such feud and reopens an old wound that has at its center piece the former Australian skipper, Steve Waugh. Slamming Waugh for an attitude that Warne perceives to be self-centered, Warne ensures that no punches are held back as he launches into a blistering tirade against his former team mate. “Steve Waugh was the most selfish player I ever played with and was only worried about averaging 50. It was about a lack of loyalty. Pretty childish, I know, but that’s the way it was.” Recalling an incident where Waugh dropped Shane Warne from the playing XI against the West Indies contrary to accepted wisdom, Warne holds forth, “Disappointed is not a strong enough word. When the crunch came Tugga didn’t support me, and I felt so totally let down by someone who I had supported big time and was also a good friend. I lost a bit of respect for him after that. I believe he should have backed me — as I always believe the art of captaincy is to support your players and back them every time. This gains the respect from the players and makes them play for you. He didn’t, it’s history, but I never found it easy with him after that.”

Former Australian Coach John Buchanan also comes in for some criticism, especially in relation to his unconventional methods of coaching that involved reading excerpts from Sun Tzu’s “Art Of War”, going on remorseless boot camps and waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of simulated explosives to belt the “Underneath The Southern Cross” at full volume.

Warne also is refreshingly open about his obsession towards cigarettes and a predilection to alcohol. “Ten Vodka/Red Bulls and 50 darts” represent a night well spent. A few facts about Warne that has not made the rounds in the public domain in general, and outside Australia in particular, get deserving mention in the book. For example, many of Warne’s fan and followers would be pleasantly surprised to note that this legendary leg-spinner is the first man to have got a hole in one with the pin in the back right position at the Augusta Masters. Also the fact that Warne was a talented Australian Rules Football player having clocked in regular games for his beloved club St Kilda is a fact that has been obfuscated to a great extent by his overwhelming exploits with a cricket ball in hand. The book also has its share of wicked wit. A photograph that has Warne turning over his arm under the eagle eyed tutelage of Terry Jenner bears the caption, “with Terry Jenner, the teacher. John Buchanan is in the background, where he should have been more often.” Typical, indomitable Shane Warne!

The author Scott G. Fitzgerald once said, “personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” However, in the case of Shane Warne, one of the greatest ever sporting legends of any generation, personality has been an unbroken series of gestures, not necessarily successful. This man’s gestures have alternated between spontaneity and confidence, oscillated between gestures of conviction and indiscretion. Nevertheless, they have been gestures animated by freedom and exemplified by naturalness. The gestures fizz with the same verve which induced the fear of the devil in every batsmen as they watched with impending doom the breathtaking trajectory of the ball leaving the conjurer’s hand. In the same way as there was no knowing what would happen to either the delivery or the prospects of the batsman facing up to it, this remarkable human being’s gestures do not lend themselves to prediction.

That’s exactly how it ought to be! For Shane Keith Warne, both cricket and life are tenets of glorious uncertainties!

THE UNRULES: MAN, MACHINES AND THE QUEST TO MASTER MARKETS by IGOR TULCHINSKY

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The complete title of Igor Tulchinsky’s book reads: “The Unrules: Man, Machines And The Quest To Master Markets” Reads complicated? You bet it does. The book also has a foreword by Michael Milken. The founder, Chairman and CEO of WorldQuant, Igor Tulchinsky is a multi-faceted personality. His resume reads like chunks of genius running amok. A Masters in Computer Science from the University of Texas in just nine months, an MBA from Wharton, trysts with being a venture capitalist and employment as a scientist at AT & T Bell Laboratories amongst others. All non-believers may please make a bee line to his profile on LinkedIn!

However, it is not just Tulchinsky’s resume that makes for some complex reading. “The Unrules” which doubles up as a quasi-memoir-cum-bytes of investing wisdom-cum-power of computing-cum-selected scientific chronology, at times makes your head spin and reel. Tulchinsky begins his book with the lines, “people who know me well are aware that I am a man of few words. In fact, I joke that you only have so many words in life, and when you use them up, you die.” Perusing some passages in this book, makes the reader firstly realise, as to why the author is a man of few words and secondly, why it is preferable that he remain that way! At times genius struggles to make itself understood in language that is simple and in concepts that are fundamental.

“The Unrules” is a contrasting mix of enthusiasm and exasperation. While the parts dealing with Tulchinky’s emigration from Russia to the United States make for some inspiring reading, his holding forth on the employ and importance of algorithms and architectures in the world of finance leaves one dizzy with confusion. Expounding on esoteric concepts such as the von Neumann architecture and the Black Scholes Model, Tulchinsky succeeds in losing all but the most technologically savvy and mathematically inclined ‘quants’ who also happened to be disguised as readers!

My personal pet-peeve is undoubtedly the Chapter entitled, “Waves”. Consider the following sentences from this Chapter: “for many years waves in water were seen as a linear phenomenon consisting of the combination of sinusoidal elements. “Sinusoidal” is derived from the word ‘sine’, which is a serpentine curve, often repeated like those pond ripples. In this context linear means, if you have two waves, each with different attributes (wavelength, frequency, velocity, amplitude at the peak), and you combine them, you simply add the separate heights of the predecessor waves to calculate the height of the resulting wave.” P.H.E.W!

Reading this book is like alternating between role playing a mendicant who is serenely stoned and a hardworking under privileged youth who in spite of all his travails is defiant in the conviction that the world is his Oyster. While tidbits of wisdom such as “Blame no one else. Minimize regrets”;Don’t compromise. Play to your strengths.”; and “Obstacles are information” suffuse hope and a sense of anticipation, these sporadic pieces are obfuscated by and hidden in between an ocean of esoterica!

“The Unrules” is thus a queer combination of Albert Einstein and Don Quixote. While the Don Quixote bits spur you into charging ahead and taking on the world, regardless of its threatening windmills, the Einsteinian bits are alas lost in a relentless surge of high and powerful waves!

Maybe Mr. Tulchinsky should start speaking more!

Has the West Lost It – Kishore Mahbubani

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In this stirring polemic, one of the most pre-eminent thinkers of our time bursts the Western myth of intransigence, condescension and impunity undergirding the West v Rest relationship. Calling for a deeper, rational and more empathetic engagement, Kishore Mahbubani, exhorts the West to inculcate a desperately needed nuanced and balanced approach while dealing with the world.

Bemoaning the current ideologies employed by the West to both deal with and impose their terms upon the ‘Rest’, Mahbubani quotes the perennial strategist Machiavelli who was a great proponent of adopting strategies to suit changing times. “The prince who relies entirely on fortune is lost when it changes. I believe also that he will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful.” Strains of Machiavelli echo in both an explicit and implicit vein throughout this short but compelling work.

Mahbubani, after acknowledging the gift of ‘reasoning’ which the Western world bestowed upon Asian societies, proceeds to elucidate how the beneficiaries took maximum malleable advantage of such a powerful gift. This was accomplished by what Mahbubani terms, ‘three silent revolutions.’ Silent, because these transformations that have the potential to be a game changer in future, have gone totally unnoticed by a slumbering West. The revolutions themselves, being political, psychological and governance. The upheavals triggered by these revolutions have had a reverberating impact on both the fortunes and futures of nations from China to India to Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a refreshing sense of belief amongst these nations that they can be the ‘locomotive’ of change that influences world polity.

Mahbubani comes down heavily on what he calls the Western ‘hubris’. A hubris that has at its heart the concept of Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”. This hubris manifests itself in mindless acts of aggression such as the Iraq invasion and an inveterate predilection to meddle in the affairs of other nations. Also the queasy relationship between Islamic States that provokes universal antagonism also accentuates an uneasy balance in relationships. In the words of Mahbubani, “the West makes one fundamental mistake in all its dealings with the Islamic world; it underestimates the religion of Islam.”  The expansion or a determined attempt to expand NATO into the previous Warsaw pact countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia has directly or indirectly resulted in a strongman such as Vladimir Putin assuming unshakeable power in Russia.

So what is the solution to redress this grievous imbalance? Mahbubani proposes a ‘new grand strategy’ that has at its heart the tenets of Minimalist, Multilateral and Machiavellian notions. The minimalist approach advocates the West reigning in its influence over various regions and ‘stepping back’ from its probes into the internal affairs of other countries. The multilateral strategy requires the West to ‘understand’ the Rest better. Relegitimization of the United Nations is one step in the right direction. The fact that a rapidly growing economy and the world’s largest democracy that is India has been constantly thwarted in its mission to obtain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council speaks a lot for a crying need to reform. The third strategy, of Machiavelli requires the West The third strategy, of Machiavelli requires the West “to learn more from Machiavelli and deploy more strategic cunning to protect its long term interests.”

Mahbubani concludes by warning that if the West does not pay heed to the aforementioned three principles thereby fostering a more inclusive approach towards how it views the Rest, it is only a matter of time before it would have totally lost it!

Donald Trump would do very well to read this small but powerful book, but then again reading does not tantamount to understanding!