The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the strange Science of the Self – Anil Ananthaswamy


The concept of ‘Dualism’ is an ancient concept that found a deep entrenchment in the Greek mode of thinking. Plato and Aristotle reasoned that the human mind or soul could not be identified with the physical body. This belief was lent its greatest resonance and boost 2000 years after the time of its proponents when Rene Descartes became its Messiah. In fact, the word “Dualism” was coined by Descartes. Since the word “Cartesius” is simply the Latin form of the name Descartes, the concept of dualism formulated by him came to be known as Cartesian dualism.

At the heart of Cartesian Dualism lies the philosophy that the immaterial mind and the material body are two completely different types of substances and that they interact with each other. This is encapsulated by Descartes’ immortal saying “cogito ergo sum,” or “I think therefore I am.” More than 350 years after Descartes, an intrepid consultant for New Scientist , a renowned science journalist and freelance editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reignites the debate involving the existence or the lack of it of the self in a riveting book that is guaranteed to keep you, or your mind at least awake through the nocturnal hours.

Anil Ananthaswamy’s work titled, “The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations Into The Strange New Science Of The Self”, (“the book”) is a tantalizing masterpiece that is moving in its intent, methodical in its approach and memorable in its outcome. Anil Anathaswamy’s search for the self has its edifice in thinking about the same in terms of two categories: “the ‘self-as-object’ and the ‘self-as-subject.’…. For instance, if you were to say ‘I am happy’ – the feeling of happiness, which is part of your sense of self at that moment, belongs to the self-as-object category. You are aware of it as a state of your being. But the “I” that feels happy – the one that is aware of its own happiness – that’s the more slippery, elusive self-as-subject. “

Ananthaswamy, in his quest to find answers, hones in on the lessons and insights that are gleaned from certain neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Cotard’s Syndrome and schizophrenia, that ultimately serve to thaw our identity. While dwelling on Cotard’s Syndrome, Ananthaswamy recounts, the story of a patient who demonstrated the clinical symptom of Cotard’s: he insisted he was brain-dead despite being alert enough to make that declaration. Cotard’s thus cocks a snook at the classic Cartesian philosophy of the self: “I think, therefore I am.” Studies reveal that sufferers show abnormally low metabolic activity in the frontoparietal network, which is involved in generating conscious awareness. The connection suggests that these neural networks may be at least partially responsible for our sense of self.

Ananthaswamy chronicles how people with schizophrenia face a twisted version of reality. Losing agency over thoughts, experiencing hallucinations and paranoia are some of the unfortunate manifestations of this vile disorder. Functional MRI studies show that patients with auditory hallucinations exhibit hyper connectivity among brain regions involved in speech production, speech perception, hearing and threats. These overactive neural networks, Ananthaswamy says, transform our beliefs of the world and of ourselves.

Whether Ananthaswamy succeeds in unearthing the Holy Grail behind the existence (or the lack of it) of the self, he singularly and triumphantly succeeds in conveying an indelible message to his readers. A poignant, pertinent and perennial need to inculcate the attributes of empathy and emotion. While Einstein’s God might not have played dice, there are some unfortunate individuals in the world who seem to have drawn the short end of an uncompromising stick. These are our brethren whose lives have been turned topsy- turvy by a cruel contrivance of fate and inexplicable workings of their bodies. We, the fortunate ones can only count our blessings the right way by being beacons of hope and help for the more unfortunate number of our fellow citizens. Once we realise that – in my personal opinion at least – we would have realized our true self.

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public Vs Private Sector Myths – Mariana Mazzucato

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The memorably vitriolic and immensely readable H.L.Mencken, once said, “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” While anything that is attempted to be run by a democratically elected Government has both its adversaries and advocates, one thing which the common populace neither acknowledges nor accuses the State of, is the possession of an entrepreneurial bent. In a world where innovation is attributed to ingenuity originating from run down garages and the cubby holes of lone wolf geniuses, the credit for providing a traction for these endeavours is the sole preserve of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors. The legion of examples cited by publications of repute and news channels of worth extolling the virtues of Venture Capitalists has almost transformed into proselytization.

In her extremely provocative and insightful book, “The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public Vs Private Sector Myths” (“The Book”), Mariana Mazzucato (“the author”) makes a refreshing attempt to set the facts right and give the State its fair share of the credit in so far as pioneering innovation is concerned. Her theme for the book is laid down by a strong quote, courtesy Paul Berg, the 1980 Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry. Berg asks, “Where were you guys [venture capitalists] in the ‘50s and ‘60s when all the funding had to be done in the basic science? Most of the discoveries that have fuelled [the industry] were created back then.” Primarily written in the context of the USA & UK ‘country contexts’, this book is nonetheless relevant across geographies and where States are equally involved in paving the paths for innovations.

The author argues that the typical image of lethargy, insipidness and regulatory obsession that is layered upon a State does it no justice. Arguing that some of the most seminal innovations in fact have been conceptualized/ideated and driven by the State she proceeds to list some of the path breaking achievements that have seen the light of the day due to the stellar efforts expended by the state. “The progenitor of the Internet was ARPANET, a program funded in the 1960s by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”), which is part of the Defense Department. The Global Positioning System (“GPS”) began as a 1970s US military program called NAVSTAR……many of the promising new drugs trace their origin to the research done by the taxpayer funded National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), which has some annual budget of some $30 billion.”

However, the strongest argument for the State’s role in innovation is the preserve of one of the lengthiest Chapters in the book. Imaginatively titled, “The State Behind The iPhone”, the author vigorously contends that “Apple was able to ride the wave of massive State investments in the ‘revolutionary’ technologies that underpinned the iPhone and iPad: internet, GPS, touch screen displays and communication technologies. Without these publicly funded technologies, there would have been no wave to foolishly surf.” The author also argues that in spite of contributing so much to the development of the iPhone and a whole horde of other products in the Apple stable that have now attained iconic success, the State has been rewarded or unrewarded, unfairly. While shareholders walk off with $453 billion worth of market capitalization. The sophisticated major components embedded within the Apple products are mainly procured from foreign manufacturers in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, while the final assembly is contracted out to the company Foxconn in China. In 2011, Apple’s top 9 executives earned $441 Million, the equivalent of the annual earnings of 95,000 Foxconn assembly workers. Apple continues to institute complex corporate structures that primarily aid and assist in the evasion of taxes. This according to the author is a brazen dichotomy between socialization of risks and privatization of rewards.

The Government, as per the author is also unfairly accused of not having the ability to ‘pick winners’. A classic case in point is the much touted and lamented about example of the bankruptcy of Solyndra. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the brainchild of the Obama Administration, Solyndra received a $535 million U.S. Energy Department loan guarantee. Solyndra designed, manufactured, and sold solar photovoltaic (PV) systems composed of panels and mounting hardware for large, low-slope commercial rooftops. The panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, the company claimed, covering significantly more of the typically available roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation. Within two years of all the fanfare and flamboyance, Solyndra had filed for bankruptcy. The State was panned in various academic, business and political circles for not possessing the acuity to back the proper horse. While the successes of the State go unnoticed the failures become a scarring testimony to their inabilities.

The author also underscores the primacy of the entrepreneurial state in incubating major new industries which are stepping stones to the urgently required transition to a low carbon, sustainable economy. She demonstrates how state investment in basic research becomes fundamental to the development of wind and solar power technologies for commercial applications Germany and China are well on their way towards making this endeavor a reality.

The book concludes with a set of policy recommendations for furthering a purposeful public private partnership in the overall interests of society. It needs to be mentioned that some of the measures are UK-specific prised out from the book’s original manifestation as a Demos pamphlet. Some key proposals are:

  • Governments should not underinvest in R&D and human capital formation;
  • Expansion and reformation of the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK);
  • Scrapping the patent box regime and taking a hard look at small business subsidies;
  • Participation of the State in the upside of its innovation funding;
  • Instituting schemes involving “Golden shares of IPR and a national innovation fund, income-contingent loans and equity; and development banks.”

Mariana Mazzucato does an exemplary work of “debunking Public Vs Private Sector Myths” (in her own words). This meticulously researched book will serve as a reliable and unbiased yardstick in evaluating the future contributions of both the Public and the Private sector in so far as path breaking innovations are concerned. At a time when government measures of any kind are vilified by ascribing to them the taint by ideologies and ‘direction-leanings’ while paradoxically the ventures of capitalistic entrepreneurship stay glorified, this book aims to demolish this ‘one directional’ sense of received wisdom.

“The Entrepreneurial State” – Relevant and Responsible that makes for Recommended Reading.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies – Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Machine Age

The 10 Commandments of the Second Machine Age

  1. Thou shall recognize the Infection point enveloping the world

From driverless cars to intelligent computers that have the potential to defeat World Chess Champions and reality show experts, the world is experiencing a paradigm shift. Technology is taking giant leaps to upend the received wisdom of the Moravec Paradox. This Paradox which postulates that Moravec’s paradox, “contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. As Brynjolfsson & McAfee assert, “the next round of robotic innovation might put the biggest dent in Moravec’s paradox ever.”  Unimaginable concepts such as 3D Printing, also known as “additive manufacturing” is toppling conventional theories on their heads. A community of additive manufacturing hobbyists and tinkerers, Carl Bass and many other companies currently employ the technique of additive manufacturing to produce “final parts ranging from plastic vents and housings on NASA’s next generation Moon rover to a metal prosthetic jaw bone for an eighty-three-year-old woman.”

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “the three key characteristics of the nature of technological progress are that it is exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

2.    Remember never to forget Moore’s Law

The co-founder and Chairman emeritus of Intel Corporation, Gordon Earle Moore is credited with propagating one of technology’s most influential postulates. As per Moore, “the number of components (transistors, resistors, diodes or capacitors) in a dense integrated circuit had doubled approximately every year, and speculated that it would continue to do so for at least the next ten years.”  In the words of Brynjolfsson & McAfee, “Moore’s biggest mistake was in being too conservative.” Burgeoning improvements in technology and innovative scaling of ingenuity have propelled Moore’s predictions further and further on an upward curve that shows no signs of slowing down. To provide a startling example of this rampant progress, “The ASCI Red, the first product of the U.S Government’s Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, was the world’s fastest supercomputer in 1996. Costing $55 million, it was the first computer to score above one teraflop per second. Nine years later, another computer hit 1.8 teraflops………This computer was the Sony PlayStation 3, which matched the ASCI Red in performance, yet cost five hundred dollars, took up less than a tenth of a square meter, and drew about two hundred watts.’

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “the accumulated doubling of Moore’s Law and the ample doubling still to come, gives us a world where supercomputer power becomes available to toys in just a few years….”

  1. Thou Shall Digitize

In the words of economists Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian, digitization, in their path breaking 1998 book is defined as, “encoding information as a stream of bits.” Digitization is increasingly becoming an integrated part of our everyday lives. From the GPS application Waze to cloud services such as Dropbox, digitization is revolutionizing the way the world goes about its ways. By March 2012, Google had completed a jaw dropping exercise of scanning more than twenty million books published over several centuries.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “Digital information isn’t just the lifeblood for new kinds of science; it’s the second fundamental force (after exponential improvement) shaping the second machine age…”

  1. Remember to Innovate

Seminal innovations in powerful technologies according to Bob Gordon and Tyler Cowen, are central to economic progress. Digital innovation is not merely landmark but also “recombinant in its purest form.” Facebook built on the Web infrastructure by permitting people to digitize their social network and put media online sans having to learn HTML.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “…countless other innovations will add up over time, and they’ll keep coming and keep adding up.

  1. Think Beyond GDP

Plaudits and inevitability aside, GDP does not succeed in quantifying our welfare. Much of the information and entertainment that is available today for free are excluded by the GDP statistics. “In some ways the proliferation of free products even pushes GDP downward.” The countless hours that people spend on social media commenting on photos, tagging friends and uploading pictures, creates memorable value for a whole horde of people. Since these hours are neither quantified nor valued, not a single hour of such time gets added to the GDP numbers. Hence new metrics are required to enhance the GDP more purposively. Alternative indices such as human development index, multidimensional poverty index and Social Progress Index are emerging as popular and viable alternatives.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “in the meantime we need to bear in mind that the GDP and productivity statistics overlook much of what we value, even when using a narrow economic lens.”

  1. Technology Cleaves

The bounty created by technology also widens the spread of social and cultural inequality. “The top 1 percent increased their earnings by 278 percent between 1979 and 2007 compared to an increase of just 35 percent for those in the middle of the income distribution. The top 1 percent earned over 65 percent of income in the United States between 2002 and 2007.”  These economic shifts have birthed three overlapping pairs of winners and losers. The first two winners comprise those accumulating material quantities of the right capital assets. The remaining winners are the ‘superstars’ who are bestowed with either special talent – or luck.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “rewards earned by capitalists may not automatically grow relative to labour. Instead the share will depend on the exact details of the production, distribution, and governance systems.”

  1. Honour thy co-existence with thy machine

“Ideation, creativity and innovation are often described as ‘thinking outside the box’. Man’s potential for thinking outside the box coupled with the good processing power of a computer means that an optimal combination is ripe for the taking. While computers are extraordinarily good at pattern recognition within their allocated frames, the multiple senses possessed by humans make their frames inherently broader than those of digital technologies.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “People will need to be more adaptable and flexible in their career aspirations, ready to move on from areas that become subject to automation, and seize new opportunities where machines complement and augment human capabilities.”

  1. Remember to harness technology for the common good

The potential to harness the power of technology for the general welfare of humanity is unlimited. A classic example being the field of education. The advent and evolution of online learning platforms such as Massive Online Open Courses (“MOOCS”), have enabled “low cost replications of the best teachers, contents and methods.”

Upgrading infrastructure, providing greater impetus to start-ups, broadening the tax base by resorting to innovative measures such as negative income tax and Pigouvian taxes represent the way forward.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: “Inequality and other forms of spread are increasing and everyone is not sharing in all the types of bounty the economy is generating”

  1. The spread of the bounty is uneven

Instagram has allowed more than 130 million people to share some 16 billion photos. Barely 15 months into its founding, Instagram was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion. Kodak, on the other hand declared bankruptcy a few months after the Instagram sale. This ‘photography paradox’ exemplifies the uneven division of bounty. Not only has Instagram created a new class of super-rich entrepreneurs and investors, but it has done so with a company that employs only 4,600 workers. Compare that with Kodak, which at its peak employed 145,000 workers in mostly middle-class jobs.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: we’re now in the second machine age: steady exponential improvement has brought us into the second half of the chessboard—into a time when what’s come before is no longer a particularly reliable guide to what will happen next.” 

  1. Change is Constant

Science Fiction like developments such as slam and artificial intelligence are more likely than nor to put in peril workers in diverse jobs hitherto deemed safe from the touch of technological displacement. Even though historical record suggests that demand for new goods and services will be sufficiently elastic to compensate for jobs lost as a result of innovation, no economic law guarantees employment for all willing workers at a wage sufficient to live on.

Key Takeaway in the authors’ words: if we are looking at the wrong gauges, we will make the wrong decisions.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – Klaus Schwab

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We as humanity, are at the cusp of a change. A change that is so paradigm shifting that it can be baffling and bewildering. The pace at which this change is being thrust upon us makes it hard to fathom its impact. Would it be benevolent and beneficial? Or will it be perilous and pernicious? At the forefront of this ambiguous albeit inevitable change lies the forces of Information Technology (“IT”). With surging Quantum Leaps, the costs of computing have plummeted while its complexities have increased exponentially. What will this rampage of an evolution mean for the world as a whole?

There can be no individual better qualified than Klaus Schwab to tackle this issue head on and he does exactly that in his groundbreaking work “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” (“The Book”). The Founder and Executive Chairman of The World Economic Forum, Schwab is at the epicenter of the seminal changes that are affecting the way in which we go about living in what is fast turning out to be a unique and fast changing world. In this book he goes about dissecting this change in an unbiased and impartial manner.

Klaus Schwab terms this change, “the fourth industrial revolution”, following the first industrial revolution (1760-140) that “triggered the construction of railroads and the invention of the steam engine…”, the second industrial revolution, “which started in the late 19th century and into the early 2oth century, making mass production possible, fostered by the advent of electricity and the assembly line”, and the third industrial revolution that began in the 1960s. “It is usually called the computer or digital revolution because it was catalyzed by the development of semiconductors, mainframe computing, personal computing and the internet.”

The fourth industrial revolution, according to Schwab is driven by what he calls, “Megatrends.” These Megatrends include autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing, advanced robotics, new materials and digital and biological shifts. The impact of these megatrends as Schwab stresses are felt by the Economy as a whole, in the economic growth in the aggregate, by an aging population which is “forecast to expand from 7.2 billion todays to 8 billion by 2030 and 9 billion by 2050.”  This influence also has a bearing on Total Factor Productivity (“TFP”), employment and labour substitution.

The fourth industrial revolution as Schwab reiterates leads to wholesale disruption. A disruption of the conventional ways that we are used to. Automation will lead to job losses and the gig economy will overshadow the run-of-the-mill 9 to 5 workload. Are we adequately prepared to ride and balance these seminal shifts? Further, as Schwab reiterates, “to a large extent, the millennial generation is setting consumer trends. …….30 billion Whatsapp messages are sent every day and where 87% of young people in the US say their smartphones never leaves their side.”

Schwab asserts that governments of the world need to sufficiently plan for and regulate our new capabilities to ensure our security. There might be a rise in the social tensions courtesy the socioeconomic changes ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Obsolescence in the job market coupled with an enhanced sophistication curve might lead to an exacerbation of inequality and the attendant discord.

With a view to better managing this unavoidable fourth revolution, Schwab proposes for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Stressing on a proactive approach to shape this technology and disruption, Schwab emphasizes that there is a pressing need for global cooperation and a shared view of how technology is reshaping our economic, social, cultural and individual lives.

As Schwab concludes, the world needs to \develop leaders possessing the requisite abilities \to tide organizations through these dramatic shifts. In the capacity of responsible professionals, we need to embrace change and accept that what our employment looks like today might be a sea change from the shape which it would assume tomorrow. We need to better equip ourselves through education and training to be prepared for this paradigm shift and diametrically different thinking that will redefine what may well be the workplace for tomorrow.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies In a Silicon Valley Start-up – John Carreyrou

While it is one thing to be touted as the ‘next Steve Jobs’, it is an entirely different thing to be so taken in by such lavish praise so as to cocoon oneself in an aura of pride, vanity and over-confidence. This is exactly what happened with Elizabeth Holmes. A daring, enterprising and ambitious Stanford drop out, this twenty-two-year-old self-made entrepreneur, billionaire (albeit not a lasting one) and the founder of “Theranos”, a much vaunted and hailed about private health technology corporation.

The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos is one of deceit, camouflage and subversion. It is also a tale of hubris. John Carreyrou, brilliantly chronicles this story in his book, “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies In a Silicon Valley Start-up”. Incidentally it was Carreyrou who blew the murky lid of Theranos to reveal an inside racked by subterfuge, nepotism and fraud. In this attempt, he was aided by a group of brave but harassed whistle blowers, who, in the course of trying to shine light on the dark deeds of their employer, were hounded and hassled by egregious lawyers and ill-tempered executives. When finally, Theranos turned out to be nothing less than a modern day Thanos, both in aspiration and dealings, its founder’s net wealth had eroded from a jaw dropping $4.5 billion dollars to a more reflective and appropriate number of zero.

The award winning Carreyrou startles his readers by exposing the dangerous methods resorted to by Elizabeth Holmes and her cronies in a desperate bid showcase Theranos as the next generation health care miracle. Claiming to revolutionize the process of testing blood – claiming a paranoia towards needles as an overarching driver – Holmes boasted that the practice of venipuncture (the act of intravenously drawing blood) would soon be replaced by the most innocuous method of pinpricking. Thus would end, what Holmes termed a ‘gruesome medieval torture’ As an added advantage these tests could be conducted at homes of patients, in wellness centres and walk-in clinics. And as Carreyrou illustrates brilliantly, many seasoned businessmen and veteran investors got cot completely taken in by this incredulous claim. Wallgreens and Safeway signed million dollar contracts with Theranos for procuring the blood sampling machines and the Board of Directors of Theranos was a glittering assemblage of America’s most sought after. Some of the eye popping names who offered themselves to be seated on the Board of Holmes’ company were Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Don Lucas. Marquee investors such as Carlos Icahn, Robert Kraft and Betsy De Vos plunked in $900 million while an eighty-four-year-old Rupert Murdoch contributed his fair share of millions as well.

But as Carreyrou chillingly demonstrates, the technology that was much feted, fanned out and felicitated, was at its core and crux – a dud. While the underlying technology was neither developed nor prepared to perform all the tasks that were proudly being claimed by Holmes, the very premises housing the machines were shady. Theranos in fact used equipment manufactured by other reputed companies such as Siemens (hiding the machines when the health inspectors came calling) and continued drawing blood intravenously to grade tests using routine commercially available equipment.

As sincere and apprehensive employees began raising their doubts and questioned the company’s practices, Theranos became a revolving door of flushed out employees and hastily assembled recruits. In the words of a fired employee, Theranos’ devices were likened to an ‘eighth-grade science project’. The blood samples were stored at incorrect temperatures leading to patients getting faulty results and making unwarranted trips to emergency rooms while cancelling painstakingly planned holidays. Complaints to Theranos fell on deaf ears. When the iceberg along with its insidious tip was finally revealed, nearly a million tests conducted in California and Arizona had to be voided or corrected.

Dressed invariably in black turtlenecks – a consequence of a compulsive obsession towards her idol Steve Jobs – Elizabeth Holmes is described by Carreyrou as a consumed woman who would stop at nothing to get her way. Woe betide anyone getting in her way either. Anyone having the guts to oppose her ended up becoming collateral damage, initially fired from Theranos before being subjected to intense harassment and torment from a battery of the firm’s lawyers. To make herself formidable in a bastion that was the preserve of prideful and haughty men, the founder of Theranos even altered her voice speaking in a forced baritone. “The Theranos device was the most important thing humanity has ever built.” Professed Holmes from various pulpits leaving her listeners mesmerized.

Holmes’ ruthlessness was egged on and enforced by Theranos’ chief operating officer and president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. At least two decades older than Holmes and romantically engaged with her (a fact which was conveniently hidden from the Board as well as the employees), he had made his mark in the dotcom bubble and seemed to act as her mentor. To employees, his menacing management style made him Holmes’s “enforcer.” Theranos’ scruples (or a brazen lack of them) would have been lost forever to the world but for a tip received in 2014 by Carreyrou Adam Clapper, a pathologist in Missouri who had assisted Carreyrou with an earlier story. Clapper had blogged skeptically on Theranos’ capability to run multiple tests on just a drop of blood. Hearing from fellow naysayers Clapper passed on their names to Carreyrou. Carreyrou got his break with Alan Beam, who had just left his job as lab director at Theranos.

Heeding Carreyrou’s assurances of anonymity (“Alan Beam” is a pseudonym), Beam spilled two profound and devastating fact beans. First, “Edisons”, the equipment manufactured by Theranos to test the blood samples were error prone and regularly failed quality control tests. Second, most blood test results reported by Theranos in patient trials did not come from the Edisons but were clandestinely obtained from standard blood testing devices. Beam was perturbed about the impact such false results could have upon both the diagnoses of doctors and the future of patients.

Theranos hired the ultra-aggressive and much feared lawyer David Boies, who did all he could to prevent the cat being let out of the bag. Undaunted Carreyrou’s persisted and his dogged determination paid off when in October 2015, his newspaper carried a damning front page story about the Edisons and the secret use of conventional testing. The backlash, outrage and fury that followed was unimaginable and although Holmes tried to allay the fears of her investors and the public at large by refuting, disputing and countering the findings made by Carreyrou in various public appearances, Theranos had begun counting its last remaining days. In an act of unforgettable desperation, at one meeting after the story broke, Balwani led hundreds of employees in a defiant chant: “Fuck you, Carreyrou! Fuck you, Carreyrou!”

On the 14th of March, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani with fraud. Holmes was required to relinquish control over the company and pay a $500,000 fine, and she was barred from holding any office in a public company for 10 years. Earlier the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency monitoring clinical labs, ran inspections, and as a result of its findings banned Theranos from all blood testing.

This blistering story by Carreyrou is a rousing testimony and a deserving tribute to the conscience of a few who ensured that they spoke out to save the lives and future of many. In the process, they suffered irreparable damage themselves. But still they ploughed, waded and marched forward not resting until all the damned lies were exposed and truth prevailed. This story also highlights the inexplicable ineptitude displayed by an illustrious Board of Directors completely in the thrall of one extraordinary saleswoman. For that was all Elizabeth Holmes was, a consummate sales woman with chicanery as her left hand and sleight as her right. A self-proclaimed Marie-Curie and a compulsive narcissist she might have at the outset nursed genuine motives as Carreryrou espouses. But somewhere on the way the motives gave way to mechanics the machineries driving which became alien to even Holmes herself.

The one lingering aspect of Carreyrou’s book is its flourishing finish. I reproduce the same here and leave the readers to digest it and form their own opinion:

“I’ll leave it to the psychologists to decide whether Holmes fits the clinical profile of a sociopath, but her moral compass was badly askew. By all accounts, she had a vision that she genuinely believed in. But in her all-consuming quest to be the second coming of Steve Jobs she stopped listening to sound advice and began to cut corners. Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.”


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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.