Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Knives Out

Movie Review : Knives Out

Released : 2019

Director: Rian Johnson

Genre: Mystery

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Knives Out” is a recent movie that feels like such a welcome blast from the past. A movie that singularly fits the “Mystery” genre and will remind you of none other than Agatha Christie. I had nearly forgotten how enjoyable such stories are.

The mystery here is about the death of a rich and famous author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). It seems like he killed himself by slicing his own throat with a knife. (Now that might perhaps be the rarest type of suicide.) He had a large family, with children and grand-children. As the pair of cops question them, we learn that many of them could be the suspects, including the central character of the story, the young nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). Joining the cops is a detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Yes, with a French name, interesting mannerisms, distinct style of speaking and all that. Alas, no mustache. 

The story has all the standard, and beloved elements of a classic mystery. A rich estate, squabbling members of a large family, many suspects with motivations, questionable details around the death. The approach is also familiar. We know more than the detectives - while the characters are telling a version to the detectives, the director tells us what really happened. So we know who is lying and about what. 

Like any good mystery, this is a bit more than just a whodunit, even though that is the main plot line. How it happened and why Detective Blanc is involved are also unknown to us. The additional minor details about the characters are not novel but amusing nonetheless. Their interactions are often filled with dialogues that make a political and social commentary on the current state of affairs. Just to be sure, all that is kept as a sideshow. 

Visually, the movie is beautiful, and tends oh so slightly towards the noir style. And that’s a good thing. The movie never turns dark, as has become the norm lately. It remains faithful to classic mystery style. There is no gore, no boo moments. We like and dislike characters, but we never get too emotionally involved with any. There is no melodrama, no emotional manipulations. The movie absolutely never stops being fun and a puzzle to solve, with many memorable scenes along the way.

In such an approach, the screenplay becomes extremely important. It takes skills to figure what frames to show in only the two hours available. They need to be just enough to keep us guessing and not figure it out. And at the same time, be more than enough to make us accept the resolution as perfectly valid and not make it feel like a forced or cheap trick. When accomplished masterfully, as done here, it feels like reading a good book.

It’s not a character centric movie, but capable actors of course help. Ana de Armas, a relative newcomer and Daniel Craig play their roles perfectly, and get more screen time than others such as Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Christopher Plummer.

This is such an enjoyable movie. It uses all the familiar motifs and still feels fresh. It stays completely committed to present us a mystery with a very satisfying ending. I highly recommend it. It’s correctly rated PG-13 and should be fine for teenagers.

Monday, January 4, 2021


 अफलातुन !

आजच्या काळात सांस्कृतिक देवाण-घेवाण अगदी सहज होते. फार पूर्वी दोन संस्कृती एकमेकींना भेटायचे प्रमुख कारण दुर्दैवाने युद्धच असावे. विजेत्यांची संस्कृती पराभूतांवर लादली जात असेलही, तरी काही गोष्टी मनापासून स्विकारल्या जायच्या. वेगवेगळ्या विषयांचे ज्ञान अशा वेळी एका समाजातून दुसऱ्या समाजात पसरले गेले, आणि क्वचित प्रसंगी नावे देखील. 

Alexander The Great हा Macedon नावाच्या एका ग्रीक प्रांताचा राजपुत्र. वयाच्या विसाव्या वर्षी त्याने सुरु केलेल्या आक्रमणातून इतिहासातील एक विस्तृत साम्राज्य उभे झाले. Alexander ने नरसंहार खूप केला तरी त्याने जे प्रदेश जिंकले तिथे त्याचे नाव मात्र लोकं लावतात. आज ही सिकंदर हे एक नाव म्हणून प्रचलित आहे. “मुक़द्दर का सिकंदर”, “जो जीता वही सिकंदर“ अशा तऱ्हेने सुद्धा ह्या नावाचा वापर वाक्प्रचारात आणि काव्यात दिसतो.

याद रख सिकंदर के हौसले तो आली थे

जब गया था दुनिया से दोनों हाथ खाली थे

(चढता सूरज धीरे धीरे ढलता है ढल जाएगा - क़व्वाली)

Alexander ला The Great अशी उपाधी आपण लावतो ती योग्य असो नसो, त्याचा गुरु Aristotle मात्र महान होता यात तिळमात्र ही शंका नाही. जसं Alexander चा सिकंदर झाला, तसा Aristotle चं नाव अरबी भाषेत “अरस्तु” (أرسطو) असं झालं. जर आजच्या काळातही Aristotle च्या बुद्धिमत्तेने, विचारांमुळे आपण थक्क होतो, तर त्या काळात त्याचा प्रभाव त्या वेळच्या विचारवंतांवर पडला त्यात काही आश्चर्य नाही. ज्या ज्या प्रदेशात Alexander चं साम्राज्य पसरलं तिथे Aristotle ची Philosophy सुद्धा विचारांवर राज्य करू लागली. त्यावरून आधी अरबी आणि नंतर उर्दू/हिंदी मध्ये “फ़लसफ़ा” शब्द आला. इस्लामच्या सुवर्णयुगात बग़दाद मध्ये Aristotle चा अभ्यास आवर्जून व्हायचा आणि त्याचा उल्लेख अतिशय आदराने “The First Teacher” असा केला जायचा.

Aristotle चा गुरु Plato ही तितकाच महान होता. जशी Alexander ची युद्धनीती अजूनही अभ्यासली जाते, तसा Plato चा अभ्यास आजही बऱ्याच क्षेत्रात होतो - उदा. Political Science.

ह्या Plato चं नाव आधी अरबीत, नंतर उर्दू मध्ये आले ते अफ़लातूँ (أفلاطون) असं. मराठीत त्यातल्या अनुस्वाराचा पूर्ण न झाला आणि शब्द झाला अफलातून.

Plato ची बद्धिमत्ता एव्हढी होती की, हे केवळ नाव न राहता एक विशेषण सुद्धा झाले. आपण मराठी मध्ये विशेषण म्हणूनच “अफलातून” चा वापर करतो, आणि तो “विलक्षण”, “अलौकिक” अशा चांगल्या अर्थासाठी.

उर्दू मध्येही तसा वापर होतो. केवळ Plato च नाव म्हणून सुद्धा वापरतात. क्वचित ठिकाणी “फ़लातूँ” असाही शब्द काव्यात आढळतो - कदाचित वृत्तात बसवण्यासाठी हा बदल असावा. ह्या शब्दाचा वापर टोमणा देण्यासाठी सुद्धा उर्दू मध्ये करतात. उदा. “तुम अपने आपको अफ़लातूँ का बच्चा मत समझो”. 

उर्दूचे महाकवी अल्लामा इक़्बाल ह्यांच्या “औरत” ह्या प्रसिद्ध लघुकवितेत त्यांनी फ़लातूँ आणि अफ़लातूँ ह्या दोन्हींचा वापर केला आहे.

मुकालमात-ए-फ़लातूँ न लिख सकी लेकिन

उसी के शोले से टूटा शरार-ए-अफ़लातूँ

(Although she didn’t write the Dialogues of Plato,

From her flames came out the spark of Plato)

Plato च्या Dialogues चा सन्दर्भ देण्यासाठी इंग्लिश मध्ये भाषांतर लिहिलं आहे.

सिकंदर आणि अफ़लातूँ, ही दोन्ही नावं उर्दू/हिंदी/मराठी मध्ये रुळली, पण का कुणास ठाऊक, अरस्तु (Aristotle) आणि सुक्रातु (Socrates) ही नावं रुळली नाहीत. 

अफलातून सारखाच, कौतुक करण्यासाठी आपण ‘कमाल’ शब्द वापरतो. तो सुद्धा अरबी मधून आला आहे. त्याचा अर्थ “निपुणता”, “पूर्णता” असला तरी वापर “पूर्णता”शी निगडित जास्त होतो. उदा. उर्दू मधले मुकम्मल, कामिल वगैरे. तशाच उद्देशाने वापरला जाणारा “ज़बरदस्त” शब्द ही फ़ारसी मधून आला आहे - ज़बर (बलशाली) आणि दस्त (हात) ह्या पासून बनलेला जोडशब्द.


मराठी शब्दांच्या व्युत्पत्ती मध्ये, अफलातून शब्दाची व्युत्पत्ती सर्वार्थाने अफलातून आहे. :-) 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Mama’s Last Hug

Book Review : Mama’s Last Hug
Author : Frans de Waal My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars - MUST READ

The complete title of the book is ‘Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves’.

Let me start the review with the video from which the book got its title.

The last hug


It feels really weird to ask if animals have emotions. Of course they do! Ask any pet owner, ask anyone who has seen some of the countless animal videos circulating on social media. So why write a book (or multiple) books, trying to prove what seems as obvious as saying, the sky is blue. The reason, the author explains, is to dig deeper. What kind of emotions? Are their emotions similar to ours? Is there a purpose for these emotions? And so on.

Dr Waal has spent years studying this subject, and has written multiple books, highly regarded and widely read. I had heard of his perhaps most famous book, “Chimpanzee Politics”, but this is the first book I read that was written by him. Now, I am definitely going to try to read his other books as well.

Throughout the book, Dr Waal gives interesting accounts of experiment after experiment, each one making it crystal clear that animals feel, and have emotions. Feelings are not the same as emotions, something that may be obvious to people who study sociology and psychology, but I understood clearly from reading this book. The real insight is provided not only by the experiments, but also by the author’s explanation of how these emotions structure our lives and our societies. The emotions of compassion, revenge, empathy, hunger for power etc all are crucial factors that govern our decisions regarding everything from health care systems to legal institutions.

Most of the book is about primates, and chimpanzees in particular, which is what Dr Waal has specialized in. After reading his accounts and explanations, I can agree with him when he says, it’s really hard to draw the line between them and us. We are so similar. At the same time, he also cautions against projecting our feelings onto them. We often talk about animals, especially our pets, as if they are humans. In spite of that, and paradoxically, we are also surprised when we see animals reacting like us! Neither is a scientific approach. This book, as the complete title says, is as much about us, as it is about animals. 

Another new insight I learned here was how similar animals' body language can be with ours, including facial expressions. Just as our facial muscles pull our lips to reveal complex emotions, so do the animals. A smile can be because of happiness or it can be a nervous grin, both in humans and in primates. It’s just one of the many indications that their emotions are just as complex as ours. This complexity makes two opposite emotions, just two sides of the same coin. An ability to feel empathy is needed not just to help others, but also to be cruel and hurt others. He gives many accounts of not-so-good behavior by the primates.

The book goes much further than that. It’s very likely that for many readers, it won’t come as a surprise to know that animals have joy, fear, empathy and so on. But what about feelings that are indicative of a more complex morality such as guilt, or shame? It seems animals do have those feelings! As the later chapters explore, the real questions are, how complex are their emotions, do they have free will like us, are they rational maximizers, can they be capitalists and so on.

This is a beautiful book. Written in such a simple to understand style, and yet at the same time asking and often answering many deep philosophical questions. It draws from years of research of many, including Darwin. I very highly recommend it, giving it my “Must Read” rating. It will amaze you, delight you, inform you and make you self introspect. It’s a brilliant book. Read it.

In the end, I will leave you with this amazing video featuring the author, that I had seen many years ago, may be on “60 minutes”. It’s often mentioned in the management training :-)  about fairness. Enjoy!


Friday, November 20, 2020

Fool me twice

On Tuesday, November the 3rd 2020, as I sat eagerly to watch the results of the Presidential Election, very quickly my hope of seeing the country get rid of Trump turned into despair. In the first few minutes, the Florida results were encouraging. Then Miami-Dade county reported and the shock I felt will remain forever etched in my memory. Hillary Clinton won that district by 35 points, and still lost Florida. Biden won it by around 15 points or so, and it was immediately clear that he is not going to win Florida.

As they say, it was “deja vu all over again”. Four years ago, it was Florida that delivered the first shock and things got progressively worse throughout the night - for people like me who wanted to see the country rejecting Trump. This year, it seemed like a replay of the same movie. Both times, the pain became worse because I wasn’t prepared for it. The polls had left me no doubt that Trump was going to be defeated, and both times, the polls got it horribly wrong.

In 2016, when Trump won, the polls became a joke in the eyes of the most. I was also surprised how the polls got it wrong. I decided to spend time figuring out why. As I studied the issue, I realized that I didn’t really understand what the polls were actually saying. Of course, the polls got many things wrong, but their error was pretty much in line with their historical performance.

Even in 2012, the polls had underestimated Obama’s chances of winning reelection. But they got the direction right, and hence the polling error did not get too much attention. The polls were actually not as wrong in 2016, but the error margin was bigger than the slim vote margin that went in Trump’s favor. More importantly, Trump’s margin of victory was far less than the “undecided” percentage of voters reported by polls. That was the key to understand why we all though the polls were wrong. As the election neared, there was a clear movement of these “undecided” in Trump’s favor, which many missed, including the media and me. Then there was the last minute bombshell by Comey which sealed the deal, and there were few polls after that announcement. 

Many theories such as “the shy Trump voters” have been debunked in many studies since the 2016 debacle. The real reason, the pollsters argued, was that they didn’t account for the correct proportion of rural voters, people without a college degree etc. In other words, their sampling technique needed refinement to capture a better representation of the electorate.

So I defended the polls and prediction models such as the one at FiveThirtyEight. I argued that a few swing states, going in Trump’s favor by a very slim margin, is definitely within their prediction of a 30% probability of Trump’s win. In life, we shouldn't be surprised by events with 30% probability actually happening. For example, we are not at all surprised to see a pair of dice rolling to 6 on each, which has a much less probability (less than 3%). 

This time, I thought I was interpreting the polls correctly. The polls were indeed much better in 2018 midterms. In 2020 as time progressed, they tended to move more strongly in favor of Biden. That was not the case 4 years ago when the polls were fluctuating a lot. There were hardly any “undecided” in the polls this time, and Biden’s margin was much much higher than Clinton. To top it, the polls were consistent with each other, across different pollsters, across states etc. 

So I made my prediction for a Biden win, and doubled down on it by giving a 50-50 chance for a landslide victory by Biden. I even offered the bets with specific odds. Although I did not lose the bets, and got a few things right, I was wrong about lot more things.

Now the way ballots were counted, made it seem like a close and tough win. Actually it was quite a comfortable victory for Biden. When Trump won it last time, many called it a “clear mandate”. Biden’s 2020 electoral count is going to be the same as Trump in 2016. Biden’s popular vote margin (of close to 7 million votes) is even larger than what Clinton got. By the way, my estimation of the margin was quite right. Biden’s margin in swing states is much much higher than what Trump had in 2016. Finally, Biden won back the Blue states Clinton lost, and flipped 2 Red states in addition. So by any yardstick, this is a very nice victory. Just the way counting was done, made it look like a tough win.

In spite of that, I have to say that my prediction was quite wrong.

Most of the arguments I made were based on eroding support for Trump. That was completely incorrect. Trump got even more votes than he got the last time (close to 10 million more), and was able to get more votes from Blacks and Latinos than he got in 2016. There is a lot for me to understand there.

Mainly, I wasn’t predicting just a Biden win. I was giving a 50-50 chance for a landslide. As it turned out, there was really no chance of a landslide. I made that prediction thinking Florida will go to Biden and Texas will be a close loss. This was based on polls. For example in Florida, the polls continued to shift towards Biden as the election neared. Most highly rated polls gave Biden a +5 chance, when the reality was he was -3. That was an astronomically huge miss by the polls. When most swing states are decided by a margin of less than 2%, any poll that can be wrong by 8-10% is worse than being useless.

Florida wasn’t an exception. Iowa, Texas, North Carolina - none were as close as the polls claimed to be. And wherever Biden won, the polls had estimated a much higher margin.

The common theme in the errors made by the polls was - they underestimated the support for Trump. Just like they did in 2016. Except this time, the pollsters had told us that they have learned from their mistakes and have made the necessary adjustments. If this is how anyone “improves” in their job, they would be fired.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Hence, I am declaring that polling is useless for me. Yes, they will try to explain why they got it wrong this time, or how it wasn’t as wrong as we perceive. Yes, they might get it right the next time. But I am not going to trust them again. Ever. And I know, I am not alone. Even though Biden won as was the prediction, many people understand that polls were really inaccurate this time - especially in the purple swing states where they matter the most. The entire polling industry has lost its trust. Even if they get it right the next time, it won’t increase their trustworthiness any more than throwing a dice.

Nah. I did not make a good prediction. Live and learn. Well, at least I won’t waste any time and suffer heartburn in the next election, by engaging in studying polls and coming up with a prediction model. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

My Prediction For 2020 Election

The case for an epic landslide Democratic win

The 2020 Presidential election is only a few days away. Many questions are being discussed. Will there be a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins? Will the polls be wrong again for predicting a Trump loss? And so on.

What is rarely mentioned is the possibility of an epic loss for Trump. Some believe that Teflon Trump will emerge victorious as he did in the 2016 primaries and eventual election. Some believe that his die hard supporters (or cult, as it’s often called) are the most loyal of all. Some believe polls are no longer reliable. And so on.

Almost an year ago, in late 2019, in my friend circles, I went out on a limb and outlined my prediction for a “yuuuge loss” for Donald Trump. At that time, it was even more of a contrarian opinion. Incumbents have an advantage. A good economy is a virtual guarantee that the incumbent will win again. Still I had my reasons to make that prediction.

But then the pandemic happened. Since I found it completely out of the “analyzable” space, I retracted my prediction, saying, I have no idea how this will play out. Especially with the rapid spread, and both the candidates being over 70 and in the high risk group, in April I had no idea what to expect going forward.

Now, I am again comfortable to reissue my prediction with an updated probability. Trump is going to suffer an epic loss.

Before I give my reasons, let’s define what my prediction means.

What’s in epic loss? I consider getting less than 200 electoral votes as epic loss. Or a blowout. So my prediction is Trump does not win more than 200 electoral votes.

How confident am I in making this prediction? Since the future is unknowable, we can only talk in terms of probabilities. I give it a 50-50 chance. Now before you smirk, let me restate. This is my estimate for the probability that Trump loses the election AND fails to win over 200 electoral votes. The probability for a general Biden win is much higher in my estimate. In other words, I am willing to have a bet with a friend, where if my prediction comes true, I win a dollar and if Trump gets more than 200 electoral votes I give them a dollar even if Trump still loses the election. For a general election result, I am willing to give a 1 to 3 payout ratio. Meaning, if Trump wins, I give them 3 dollars, and if Trump loses, I get only 1 dollar.

What are my reasons for such a high level of confidence?

Here is how I divide the eligible voters into distinct subsets.

  1. People who always come out to vote, and vote Democratic.

  2. People who always come out to vote, and vote Republican.

  3. People who always come out to vote, and vote based on their views on that specific election - the Independents.

  4. People who need motivation to come out to vote and if they do, they vote Democratic. 

  5. People who need motivation to come out to vote and if they do, they vote Republican.

  6. People who need motivation to come out, but may vote either way depending on the election.

  7. Net new additions to the voter pool based on old people dying, and young people becoming eligible to vote and will vote. Some may vote for Republicans, some may vote for Democrats.

  8. People who never come out to vote. Unfortunately there are such irresponsible people in every democratic country.

Which groups are more important in deciding the election? Without knowing the sizes, it’s hard to say. For example, if group 1 or 2 is 90% of the country, it really doesn’t matter what other groups feel or do. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Since we don’t know the absolute sizes of each subset, we can then focus on estimating the change - the delta - between the last election and this. We can ask how do we expect these groups to behave differently in this election than what they did the last time. It’s a valid strategy to ask that question, as at least one candidate is the same in both the elections. So we can frame this question with respect to Trump. 

Let’s examine one at a time and focus only on the delta.

Group 1. By definition this group will come out and will vote Democrat, so no delta.

Group 2. By definition this group will come out and will vote Republican, so no delta.

Group 3. This group is more interesting to speculate about. Remember, this group will come out and vote. If they vote the same as last time, there is no delta. I am very certain that’s not the case. This is a referendum on the incumbent. Last time, some from this group voted for Clinton, and some voted for Trump. If someone was willing to vote for Clinton last time, I am sure they will vote against Trump again. Those who voted for Trump in this group, are more likely to change their minds. Not all. But some or many. Remember again, this group doesn’t represent the cult of Trump in any meaningful way. All of that is accounted for in group 2. We are only interested in the delta. So, I am arguing, this group represents a big negative delta for Trump. In other words, far more people in this group will change from Trump to “no on Trump”. Please note, not all have to change their mind this way. Some might actually change their vote from Democratic in 2016, to Trump in 2020. I am speculating about the aggregate, not the individual. So “net negative” is the operative word.

Group 4. This was a strong reason for Clinton’s loss. Many people who would have voted for a Democratic candidate, simply did not show up. This is a combination of die hard Sanders supporters and people who disliked Clinton. I am arguing they have a very strong motivation to come out and vote for the Democrats. They see Trump’s record. They see what’s happening with the Supreme Court. Biden is not as disliked as Clinton. Again, not all will come out to vote. We are just looking at the delta. This is a positive delta for the Democrats. No doubts about it.

Group 5. The reverse of group 4. This will be another big negative delta for Trump. How many are going to be really enthusiastic to come and re-elect Trump? A reminder once again. The cult of Trump is already accounted for in group 2. Coming back to this group of “likely Republicans”, will all of them come out to vote again for Trump? When there is no Clinton to defeat? Just like group 4 sitting at home in 2016, a section of this group will sit this one out. This is another negative delta for Trump.

Group 6. For someone who needs a strong motivation to come out and vote for someone (either Democrat or Republican), what’s their motivation this time? If they were not motivated last time to vote for Trump, they are not going to be motivated this time! In fact some may be motivated to vote against Trump. That’s why I am giving this a net negative delta for Trump.

Group 7. Another interesting group to speculate about. But maybe easier to get an agreement on. New young voters - which way will they go? Is there any doubt at all? Seriously! This is another net negative delta for Trump. And perhaps the biggest delta in percentage terms, when compared to the group size.

Group 8. By definition, there will be no delta here.

So there you have it. I do not know the size of any delta. I don't need to. Because none of the subsets is generating a positive delta for Trump. If there was a positive delta, then the question of the size becomes important. Because one positive delta can in theory override all other negative deltas. But I am confident that each delta is negative. Some mildly negative, to some wildly negative. Hence my prediction, and the confidence.

You are going to see this delta affecting “down ballot” candidates. This is not only going to go against Trump in a big way, but against Republicans in general. While I don’t think Lindsay Graham will actually lose, or that Texas will actually turn blue this time, both are a lot closer to happening than last time. As a side effect, Democrats have a good chance of getting complete control - the Presidency (high probability), the House (near certainty) and the Senate (slightly better than a 50-50 chance).


All this can be simplified into one question. Has Trump won more supporters than what he has lost? If you think he has converted more to support him than what he has lost, feel free to have a bet with me. Remember again, don’t just look at his cult. It’s the delta that’s going to decide the election, like it does in all the elections. His cult has not grown. But the size of his detractors has grown considerably.

Last time, he won with a razor thin margin. That margin got amplified, as it does in many elections, due to the structure of the electoral college. But that works in the other way too! If he loses that razor thin margin, the electoral map will look a lot different this time. I am betting, since he will lose a lot more than thin margin, it’s going to look like a blowout - less than 200 electoral votes.

UPDATE October 15, 2020
A couple of friends pointed out that I have not called out some of the data points clearly. So here is more explanation - no change in the forecast.

First, this way of doing analysis based on speculating about delta, is valid only for incumbents, which is the case here. Second all the deltas must be all negative, or positive else, the size of the deltas matter, and those are really hard to estimate.

Third, it’s valid only in cases where the margin was not high when the last election was won by the incumbent. I should have called out the third point very clearly. For example, President Obama did not get as many votes in his reelection bid, as he got the first time. Still he won the second time. In spite of negative delta. But his margin of victory was large enough to cushion it. That’s not the case with Trump.

Let’s look at the data. In Michigan, Trump won by an extremely small margin of 11K votes. That’s 0.23% of the votes. That margin is extraordinarily hard to defend, especially when you see that, in 2016 all other candidates (Green Part, Libertarian etc) got 5% of the vote (250K). So the chances of negative delta making Trump lose Michigan is very high. Note that Michigan had voted Democratic in the previous 6 elections. So 2016 with such a thin margin is not a secular change, but an outlier.

In Wisconsin, Trump won by 23K votes, which is about 0.75%. Third party candidates won 5%. And this state has voted Democratic for the previous 7 elections. This was again an outlier, which is very hard to defend for Trump.

In Pennsylvania, Trump won by 44K votes, which is also about 0.75%. Third party candidates got over 3%. This state has also voted Democratic in the previous 6 elections.

This is the basis for speculating about the deltas. A margin of less than 1% in a Democratic stronghold is too thin to stand on for a Republican candidate.

Similarly, Trump's margin of victory in other states was - Florida 1.2% and both Arizona and North Carolina less than 4%. None of these states is reliably Republican.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

इब्लीस कार्ट

आपण मराठी बोलतो की फारसी? 😀

आता हेच वाक्य बघा. . 

इब्लीस कार्ट! रोज ह्याच्या सफेद सदऱ्यावर शाईचे डाग आणि खाकी असूनही खराब झालेले दप्तर. 

ह्यातले किती शब्द फारसी वा अरबी मधून आपण घेतले असं तुम्हाला वाटतं? आश्चर्य वाटेल उत्तर वाचून.

रोज - फारसी मधला रोज़ (روز) म्हणजे दिन, आणि त्यावर आधारित इतर शब्द आपण जसेच्या तसे घेतले. उदा. रोजगार, दररोज इत्यादि. केवळ माहितीसाठी, फारसी मध्ये वर्षाच्या पहिल्या दिवसाला “नौ रोज़” (نوروز) म्हणतात.

सफेद - हाही शब्द फारसी (سفید) मधून आपण जसाच्या तसा अर्थासकट (श्वेत, पांढरा) घेतला. 

शाई - सफ़ेद च्या विरुद्ध फारसीतला रंग “सियाह” (سیاه) अर्थात काळा. “सियाही” (سیاهی) म्हणजे काळिमा आणि शाई  (ink).

ह्या दोन्ही शब्दाना एकत्र करून फारसी मध्ये “सियाह-ओ-सफ़ेद” (अर्थ: काळे पांढरे किंवा संपूर्ण) हा जोडशब्द प्रचलित आहे. उर्दू मधील अग्रगण्य कवी, “मीर तक़ी मीर” च्या एका सुप्रसिद्ध ग़ज़ल मधला एक शेर असा आहे

याँ के सपीद ओ सियह में हम को दख़्ल जो है सो इतना है 

रात को रो रो सुब्ह किया या दिन को जूँ तूँ शाम किया 

(मीर च्या कविता खूप वेळा बोलीभाषेत असतात)

सदरा - अरबी मध्ये “सद्र” (صدر) म्हणजे छाती. (इतर अर्थ आहेत मुख्य, अध्यक्ष, प्रधान वगैरे. उर्दू काव्य संमेलनात हे सम्बोधन तुम्ही नक्की ऐकले असेल). त्या वरून उर्दूत शब्द आला (हा अरबीत सुद्धा असेल कदाचित) - “सद्र:” (صدره ) म्हणजे “छाती झाकणारा”, अर्थात सदरा. 

डाग - उर्दू कवींचा आवडता शब्द दाग़ (داغ) हा फारसीतुन आला आहे. आपणही त्याच अर्थाने वापरतो, फक्त उच्चार बदलून. एवढच नाही, तर आपण त्यावरून “डागळणे” असं अगदी मराठमोळं क्रियापदही बनवलं.

खाकी - फारसी मध्ये “ख़ाक” (خاک) म्हणजे धूळ, माती, राख. आणि “ख़ाकी” म्हणजे मातीशी संबंधित, आणि रंगाचे नाव देखील. आणि सांगायला नकोच, की English मध्ये सुद्धा हा शब्द आला आणि एका तऱ्हेच्या trouser चं नाव होऊन बसला. 

खराब - अरबी मधला “ख़राब” (خراب) आपण घेतला, जसाच्या तसा, अर्थासकट.

अशा सर्व शब्दात आपण “ख़” चा उच्चार “ख” असा करतो, एव्हढाच काय तो फरक. 

दप्तर - अरबी मध्ये “दफ़्तर” (دفتر) म्हणजे वही, notebook. हिंदी आणि उर्दूत त्याचा वापर “कार्यालय” म्हणून जास्त करतात आणि आपण करतो शाळकरी मुलांच्या पिशवी साठी!

मला, ह्या सर्व शब्दांपेक्षा, ज्याची व्युत्पत्ती अधिक मजेशीर वाटते तो म्हणजे इब्लीस. 

इब्लीस - अरबी मध्ये इब्लीस (ابلیس) म्हणजे Devil. आधी सैतान असा अर्थ लिहिणार होतो पण, तोही शब्द अरबी मधील “अल शैतान” (الشيطان) वरून आला आहे. त्याच संदर्भात, खवीस सुद्धा अरबी मधल्या “ख़बीस” (خبيث) वरून आला आहे. जरी सैतान आणि खवीस भीतीदायक गोष्टींसाठी वापरले जात असले, तरी इब्लीस हा शब्द खास मुलांकरता वापरला जातो, किंवा जायचा. हल्ली किती जणांना हा शब्द माहिती असेल, काय ठाऊक.  

शेवटी, इब्लीस शब्दाच्या संदर्भात मला अतिशय आवडणारा एक शेर 

अम्न की जब कभी इंसाँ ने क़सम खायी है

लब-ए-इब्लीस पे हलकी सी हंसी आयी है

- आनंद नारायण मुल्ला 

(Whenever humans have vowed to bring peace,

A faint smile has crossed the Devil’s lips)

Trivia : Anand Narayan Mulla was a judge in Allahabad High Court, a member of Lok Sabha, then a member of Rajya Sabha. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award.

A related post on Marathi etymology : हरकत - अरबीतुन मराठीमध्ये

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Universe From Nothing

Book Review : A Universe From Nothing
Author : Lawrence M. Krauss
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “A Universe From Nothing : Why there is something rather than nothing”.

Most of the books that aim to explain physics to a lay person are written about prevailing complex theories. Only rarely, a scientist writes a book aimed at a lay person and at the same time, explaining his or her original ideas in theoretical physics. This is one of those rare books.

Theoretical physicist Dr. Krauss has a very clear purpose in writing this book. He wants to prove to us that it is not really necessary to believe in God. Please note the phrasing. This book doesn’t aim to prove that God does not exist. Rather, it argues that, perhaps the most fundamental philosophical and theological question does not require a belief in any supernatural being. That question is, “Why there is something rather than nothing?”.

Now that is a loaded question. First of all, defining “nothing” is not at all straight-forward. More importantly the reasons behind this question, and many different implications around it, will lead to a discussion that is completely out of scope for a blogpost. (Even if I had the competence to explain that, which I clearly don’t have.)

Superficially, the general premise of that question is, a Creator is needed to create something. Whether you believe in a God as defined by a religion, or you believe in a supernatural spiritual being - whatever that may be, that’s “who” created the Big Bang, or at a more fundamental level - the laws of physics. What Dr Krauss is driving towards is, even that is not necessary. “Something” will always pop out of “nothing”. Because, “nothing” is unstable!

Now there seems to be a lot of semantic jugglery going on there. Trust me, that's not the case. This is a book about advanced physics, not philosophy. The main argument being, as quantum mechanics predicts and it has been verified, at the sub-atomic level quantum fluctuations can cause “something” to be created out of “nothing”. But can it create a whole new universe?

To answer that question, Dr Krauss takes us on a fast paced tour starting with the general theory of relativity, how it predicted a non-static universe and based on Hubble’s observations, an eventual realization of the Big Bang. While these advances were happening in Cosmology, quantum mechanics was being developed and was offering a strikingly non-intuitive understanding of the subatomic world. As we know, these two theories have not been able to get married to each other, and we do not yet have a theory of everything. Still, Dr Krauss argues that these advances have sufficiently increased our understanding to see that nothing can produce something, even a universe, or infinite parallel universes.

It’s an argument that’s not easy to grasp, and not at all easy to explain. I am not sure I understood it perfectly. But I can see how it might be, because of Dr Krauss’ efforts. This philosophical argument makes the book stand out from many other popular science books. 

Another interesting new aspect I learned here, was about the future of this ever expanding universe. As Dr Krauss explains, many many billions of years from now, future cosmologists would simply not have any evidence that Big Bang happened. All they will be able to see is their local galaxy cluster, as all galaxies would have sped away far enough to be completely undetectable, no matter what technological advances happen. It’s a bleak picture.

This is a remarkable book. Dr Krauss has courageously taken the atheist argument to a whole new level and made it reasonably accessible to a layman like me. I had to read a few paragraphs again to make sure I understood them. So it wasn’t a completely smooth reading for me. In spite of that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Conservatives, Liberals and Logic

These days, “How can they be so illogical?”, is one of the most common questions I hear people asking in exasperation. Sometimes, “illogical” is replaced with “dumb”, “stupid” etc, but the intent is really to question the “abilities of deduction”. The other variants of this question are “How can they be so evil?”, “How can they be so wrong and not know it?” and so on. In this post, I am only going to talk about the “illogical” nature of “them”. 

I really find that question funny, because most of the time, people asking that question really don’t know what “Logic” means. Let’s revisit something that all of us have learned in middle school.

Logic helps us decide, given a set of premises, if the conclusion of inferences is correct. In other words, it helps us appraise an argument. Using logic, we can objectively assess an argument as either valid or invalid.

We all learned Geometry in school. Euclid constructed the most beautiful edifice in human knowledge, by starting with extremely simple postulates and using them to prove theorems of  increasing complexity. Everything about Euclid’s geometry is absolutely logical.

Except his postulates. They have no logical proof. They are taken as “self evident truths”. For example, one postulates roughly states that it is possible to draw a straight line from any one point to another. There is no way to prove this statement. We assume it to be true and use it for logically proving other theorems. As long as these “axioms” feel trivially true, everyone will be comfortable using them as the starting point.

But what if the axiom doesn’t feel trivially true? That indeed was the problem with Euclid’s 5th, and last postulate about parallel lines. This is a big topic, and I can refer you to Euclid’s Window. By changing the fifth postulate, mathematicians were able to come with completely new Geometries, that are very different but as logical as Euclidean Geometry. As it turns out, they are far more than mathematical curiosities, and the space in which our stars and galaxies operate, indeed follows non-Euclidean Geometry.

What does all this have to do with conservatives and liberals and their logical or illogical arguments? The point is, if the starting premise is different, then the logical argument would lead to a very different conclusion. Duh, you say. OK. So here is the crux. There is simply NO way to logically choose a premise. That whole thing - the inferences, the deductions - that whole logic thing, is what comes afterwards. 

So, it’s totally possible that “they” are making a very logical argument, but “their” premises are vastly different than yours. Here is what you probably don’t want to hear - “their” premises are not worse or better than your premises - they are just different premises.

This is not just a semantic jugglery. This is also not an attempt to whitewash by saying, “everyone is correct”. No. There indeed are a lot of stupid people who make illogical arguments. Their premises are contradictory in nature, and/or their inferences do not follow the rules of Logic. But questions such as “What ought to be” come down to morality, and cannot be settled by logic. Our moral code is driven by our intuitions, which are the result of our evolution by natural selection. Again, a big contentious topic and I can refer you to The Righteous Mind.

This is also not to say that all debates with “them” are on morality. Not at all. For example, when it comes to public policy, effectiveness (usefulness v/s harm) can often be debated objectively, using data analysis. That’s another big topic, as statistical interpretations can also get clouded by confirmation bias and frankly, dishonest intentions.

So now what? How can you convince “them” that “their” argument is illogical? Seriously, if you are still asking that question, you need to read this post again. Instead of looking at the argument, why not look at the premise of that argument? Why not examine it to see if it can be derived from even more fundamental premises, or is it truly subjective?

More importantly, why the need to prove to “them” that “they” are morally wrong? If Mathematics can have internally consistent theories that contradict each other, what’s wrong in a society of humans who hold very contradictory but logical views? Of course it’s not comfortable, but that diversity of thoughts and opinions, you know the thing that we say we celebrate - how about actually celebrating that?

Saturday, March 28, 2020


Series Review : Hunters (Season 1)
Aired on : Amazon Prime (2020)
My Rating : 7 out of 10

If you want to see something outlandishly different, you have to watch “Hunters”, the heavily promoted series on Amazon Prime for 2020. Bear in mind though, different doesn’t necessarily mean great. 

The premise is not novel. In 1977, a group of diverse people have come together as a band to hunt former Nazis living in the USA. Almost like X-Men, this group has been assembled by a patriarchichal leader Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who is a survivor of Auschwitz. They are introduced to us, when their newest and youngest member, Jonah (Logan Lerman) joins them to take the place of his grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin) after she is murdered. In every episode, we learn something about each of them, but not in equal proportions. We learn a lot more, of course, about the past of Meyer (the leader) and Ruth. A lot of time has been given to the lovely Markowitz couple (Saul Rubinek, Carol Kane). Their adversaries are formidable. The leader is the lady referred to simply as the Colonel (Lena Olin). Most of her dirty work is carried out by a twisted but ambitious soldier Travis (Greg Austin). Their public face is a well connected politician Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker). There are really a lot of characters.

Now, there is nothing even remotely new in making a story about the horrors perpetrated by Nazis. The brave stories of Nazi hunters are also not new, to say the least. All this has been used multiple times, in many great books and movies. What’s different here, is the presentation. Now, even that claim is a cliche. But Hunters is indeed different.

The writers (mainly David Weil) have made very conscious efforts to make sure that Hunters does not fit in any genre. It’s a crazy mixture of numerous cinematic styles. And these styles keep switching from one scene to another with seemingly no reason whatsoever. When it shows the horrors of the concentration camp, it’s unflinchingly dark and terrifying. When the Hunters are on the prowl, it’s a typical Hollywood action film. At times, it’s a comic book fantasy, often reminding us of X-Men. Then suddenly there are inserts of darkly funny TV commercials. Then it can quickly turn around and give us really touching moments. And while we are still in that spell, it can pull a slapstick comedy scene on us. Then suddenly it can decide to take the tone of a B grade movie - very intentionally - to make us suspect that the series is really trying to not take itself too seriously. But it again flips that and becomes cheesy for the next scene. And there may be much more that I am missing to classify properly.

So ask this question to yourself. Are you OK with this kind of whiplash? I can tell you that it’s done very intelligently and purposefully. I enjoyed it, mostly. There are dialogues that will stay with you, such as “You should read the Torah more. It’s the original comic book”. There are scenes that you won’t forget, such as someone shooting their own family to death. Or Jonnah and friends suddenly breaking out in a dance sequence to one of the greatest hits from that era - Stayin Alive. Heck, even the costumes are unforgettable. 

Yes, it is that different. A crazy weird mix. Sometimes it reminds us of Quentin Tarantino, sometimes it reminds us of the Coen Brothers. I can also tell you what it’s not. It’s not boring. The pacing can get uneven, but it’s very easy to get hooked to it. Nevertheless, I suspect most viewers won’t binge on it. Because it’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting. 

The acting is fantastic, as you can expect from such a cast. Writing is very smart. They have blended political commentary and conspiracy theories, quite well with real history. Yes, there indeed was an “Operation Paperclip”. The production quality is top notch, and I must add, with a lot of attention to colors. 

So the question you might ask is, why only 7 out of 10? Because I felt cheated in the end. I cannot explain that well without spoiling it for you. But I will say this, some of the surprises (the very last scene, for example) were nice, made me chuckle and say, yes, of course, I should have seen it coming. But some felt forced and unnecessary. And it was really too much to handle at times.

This series is not for the faint of the heart. There is a lot of brutality and violence. It’s definitely not for kids, and correctly rated as MA. For a change, this series goes against the norms. There is very little X rated material, or use of female nudity. Overall I can recommend it.

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