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.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Rubaai 15

Something very personal, in form of a "rubaai", of course with a translation for my non-Marathi friends. If you're easily offended by someone's view on politics and religion, please don't read any further 

रुबाई क्रमांक १५
हिंदूंच्या नजरेत, मुसलमानच जरा आहे मी
आरोप मुसलमानांचा, काफिर खरा आहे मी
मान्य तर नाहीत, मला देखील त्यांच्या व्याख्या
बाहेरच भिंतींच्या, निच्शृंखल, बरा आहे मी

Rough Translation
“You are like a Muslim”, the Hindus taunt me
“You are a real kaafir”, the Muslims accuse me
And I have no regard for their definitions anyway
Outside the walls, unchained, I am fine being me

Sunday, January 5, 2020


Book Review : Sapiens
Author : Yual Noah Harari
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “Sapiens : A Brief History Of Humankind”.

Only once in a while a book gets written that is immensely vast in scope, challenges your worldview at a very fundamental level and tackles extremely difficult topics in such an accessible manner that everyone can enjoy it. Sapiens, is such a book.

Ever since Dr Stephen Hawkings wrote “A Brief History Of Time”, there have been way too many books that announce themselves as “Brief history of …”. This book by Dr Yual Noah Harari deserves to be in the same league of the trailblazing book by Dr Hawkings. 

It’s impossible to put Sapiens in one simple category. The twenty odd amazing chapters cover everything from evolution, history, economics, politics, religion, spirituality, science, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and so on. It would have been a great feat just to weave these disparate threads into one cohesive book, but to do it in such an easy to read manner is an astounding achievement.

The book starts at the evolutionary beginnings of Homo Sapiens and ends at a chapter that speculates what might be in store for us as a species. Along the way almost every branch of knowledge gets covered in surprising detail. Now, this book is not an overview or a survey of these fields. Neither is it an introduction to all fields of human knowledge. It travels through these vistas with a singular destination in mind - to explain how we Homo Sapiens have evolved differently than any other lifeform.

What makes the book impossible to put down, is the spicy mix of opinionated commentary with generally accepted scientific theories. The range of topics and author’s fearless discourse almost ensure that everyone is going to be at least somewhat angered and/or offended. True, it will most likely offend religious and conservative readers more, but the liberals and free market capitalists are also likely to find many arguments difficult to digest. And a friendly warning to readers from India, you in particular may not like many discussions, especially if you have a defensive conjecture about how casteism took roots in Indian society. 

I am not saying that the author is deliberately trying to offend. No, not at all. And leaving aside the topics such as religion and social customs, that raise the heat rather quickly, that’s not the primary focus of the debate either. Most of the topics are morally ambiguous to say the least. A simple binary good or bad evaluation misses the really important nuances. For example, are we really happier than our hunter gatherer ancestors? Was the nexus between imperial colonialism and science good or bad? Is industrial animal farming the largest cruelty in the history of mankind? Are our cherished ideals of democracy and human rights, just a myth that exists and works only in our collective minds? The book is full of debates on such thorny issues.

So, before you embark on reading this, and it does get my “must read” recommendation, ask yourself. Do you like to be challenged on your most fundamental beliefs? Do you like to read intelligent arguments even when you don’t agree with them? Do you like to be intellectually stimulated with subtleties of historical analysis? For liking such a book, you have to be welcoming to opinions that make you uncomfortable.  That’s my view. I did agree with most of what the author had to say. But I also appreciated the views that I did not agree with. In the end, I came out with a far deeper understanding of Home Sapiens. And for that, I absolutely loved this book, and cannot recommend this highly enough. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Here’s Looking at Euclid

Book Review : Here’s Looking at Euclid
Author : Alex Bellos
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “Here’s Looking at Euclid : A surprising excursion through the astonishing world of math”.

On the back cover of the book, there is a large paragraph praising this book, written by none other than Martin Gardner. That caught my attention. There is also a chapter in the book related to toys and puzzles based on mathematics, in which the author describes his meeting with Martin Gardner, and about his influence on recreational mathematics. This book seems to be in the same tradition that Gardener was instrumental in popularizing. Blending Math, History, Mind bending puzzles, and much more in an entertaining package.

This book too is fun to read, although it starts slow. The initial chapters were a bit of a drag for me. I was also irritated by the constant reference of Amazonian native tribes as “Indians”. This is not about political correctness, it’s just flat out wrong. Especially for someone who has taken the trouble to travel to India to personally research about ancient Hindu mathematics. Even setting that aside, it took a few chapters for the book to pick up speed for me.

Luckily, as the book progressed, it became a lot more entertaining and informative. Each chapter has a theme. Although sometimes there are references to earlier chapters, I don’t think it needs to be run sequentially. It can be thought of as a collection of essays, and can be read in any order.

Each chapter is about a different area of mathematics. Of course, there is no hope to even touch upon all the areas. These topics are what the author has chosen to show that Mathematics is accessible, fun and inspiring. Some of the topics of the chapters are so extensive that entire books of recreational math have been written about them. For example, see my previous reviews about books on topics such as the “non-Euclidean geometry” or “probability”. In spite of the limitation of condensing the material to one chapter, the author has succeeded in giving a thorough introduction to the history and ideas involved, and kept in a fun to read.

The last chapter, unconvincingly bundles non-Euclidean Geometry and Cantor’s theory of infinity together. It’s still a good chapter, but I would have preferred more detailed chapter on each. Some of the middle chapters are a breeze to read. The information about Sudoku, or the Bell Curve was brilliantly presented.

Most people who like reading books on Math will like this book as well. If you haven’t read a lot of books on Math, this is a nice place to start. Especially if you have been intimidated by high school math, you should definitely try this one, as there are many facets of Math that are just delightful and everyone deserves to be delighted by Math.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

हरकत - अरबीतुन मराठीमध्ये

मराठी भाषेत भरपूर वापरात असणाऱ्या अनेक शब्दांची व्युत्पत्ती अरबी आणि फारसी भाषेत आढळते. त्यातलाच एक शब्द, हरकत.

अरबी भाषेत बहुतेक शब्द अगदी शास्त्रसोक्त नियमानुसार बनवले जातात. ह्या सर्व शब्दांचा जो पाया असतो, तो मूल शब्द (root word) हा बहुतांशी तीन व्यंजनांनी बनलेला असतो. इथे ही तीन व्यंजने आहेत ‘ह र क. ह्यात जे पहिले व्यंजन आहे, ते मराठी “ह” सारखेच आहे पण त्याचा उच्चार खूपच जास्त कंठीय आहे. इतका की त्याचा अचूक उच्चार मराठी भाषिकांसाठी अशक्यच म्हणावा.

ह्या तीन व्यंजनांना (‘ह र क) वापरून जे शब्द बनतात त्याचा संबंध असतो “हालचाल, गती, ढवळणे” (movement, motion, stir) अशा अर्थांशी निगडित. त्या सर्व शब्दांमधून माझ्या माहितीत तरी दोनच शब्द उर्दूत आले, आणि त्यातला एकच शब्द मराठीत आला.

अरबीमध्ये ह्या व्यंजनापासून बनणारा एक शब्द आहे ‘हरका (حَرَكَة), आणि त्याचे बरेच अर्थ आहेत - movement, motion, stirring वगैरे. अरबीमध्ये त्या शब्दाचे अनेकवचन आहे ‘हरकात (حَرَكَات‎). ह्याच दोन शब्दावरून फारसी मध्ये शब्द आला ‘हरकत, आणि त्याला अजून एक अर्थ मिळाला - कार्य (act, action).

हिंदी आणि उर्दू मध्ये, ‘हरकत हा शब्द सहसा त्याच अर्थाने वापरला जातो, आणि तोही जरा वाईट अर्थाने. उदाहरणार्थ, “ऐसी हरकते सिर्फ तुम कर सकते हो”. उर्दू शब्दकोशामध्ये जरी “अडथळा” हाही अर्थ दिला असला, तरी तो तितक्या प्रचारात आढळत नाही.
जो दुसरा शब्द उर्दूत आला तो आहे, ते’हरीक (تحریک). हा शब्द बहुतांशी राजकीय आणि सामाजिक संदर्भात वापरला जातो. त्याचा अर्थ आहे - चळवळ (movement), अगदी मूळ अरबी अर्थानुसार.

आपण मराठी मध्ये, मराठमोळ्या उच्चाराने शब्द घेतला - हरकत. आणि त्याच्या अर्थात वृद्धी केली. जेंव्हा आपण गायनातल्या हरकतींबद्दल बोलतो, तेंव्हा अरबी भाषेतील मूळ अर्थापासून तसे आपण दूर नसतो. पण जेंव्हा आपण एखाद्या गोष्टीला हरकत घेतो, तेंव्हा आपण त्याला आक्षेप असा एक नवीनच अर्थ देतो!!

जेंव्हा एखादी भाषा इतर भाषेतील शब्द सहजरित्या आपलेसे करून घेते, तेंव्हा त्या भाषेची समृद्धी वृधिंगतच होते.
आशा आहे, माझ्या ह्या वक्तव्याला तुमची हरकत नसावी! 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Silent Wife

Book Review : The Silent Wife
Author : A.S.A Harrison
My Rating : 4 out of 5

I have always liked mystery/thriller genre and for a long time I have been trying to find a satisfying read in vain. Many months ago, while reading reviews of “Gone Girl”, I stumbled across lofty praise for “The Silent Wife”, and added it to my “to be read” list. 

Right in the beginning, the book tells us that very soon the wife Jodi is going to murder her husband Todd. Why and how is not mentioned. Right now, she thinks she is in a stable marriage. Far from perfect, and not completely happy, as Todd is an unfaithful husband. Jodi knows that, but she has made peace with it, assuming that these are temporary occasional indulgences. They are affluent. Todd is a successful small business owner. Jodi is a psychologist, although her practice does not generate much income. It’s more of a hobby. She really enjoys her role of a home maker, making dinners and keeping everything neat and perfect.

The story of the slow disintegration of their marriage is told in alternating viewpoints of Jodi and Todd. One chapter for her, and one chapter for him. It’s told using sentences that are in present tense, a style that I dislike. But the viewpoint idea works. The author uses it very intelligently to give a close up look at what’s going on in their minds. As the story unfolds, we learn more about them and their flaws. How Todd rationalizes his behavior and how Jodi’s past is shaping her present. This is a well written novel in terms of getting to know the characters.

This is the first novel of Canadian author A.S.A. Harrison. Unfortunately she died before her book was published. It’s sad that she did not get to see the success of her book. She has used her knowledge of psychology well. It’s less of a mystery book than what the marketing blurb would suggest. Make no mistake, the mystery part works, as the author slowly reveals how things lead to the murder. Since we already know that there is a murder, this build up keeps us turning the pages to figure out the why and how. As far as the suspense goes, it depends on how many mystery books you have read. It’s not impossible to guess the outcome. The real focus of the book is two human beings, their shortcomings, their self serving minds and their complicated relationship. It’s fascinating, and dark at the same time.

It’s an interesting book, but definitely not great. So I am hesitatingly giving it a 4 star rating. I think there isn’t enough material here even for the approximately 300 pages. There are only two main characters, and the plot is not that complex. I can go only so much into someone else’s life details. Afterwards, it seems like a drag to me. The memories of Jodi’s session with her psychology professor were definitely overwritten.

With those caveats, I can recommend the book.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Rubaai 12, 13 and 14

रुबाई क्रमांक १२

रुबाई साठी कुठचाही विषय वर्जित नाही. 
प्रार्थना सुद्धा ह्या बांधणीत लिहिता येते. 

रे बघ ना मी किती सोसल्या झळा 
दे छोटासा तरी मेघ सावळा 
तव करुणेचे, पुरे दोन थेंबही 
करण्यासी आतला गंध मोकळा

कधी कधी मला व्याकरणा बद्दल प्रश्न विचारले जातात, म्हणून ही थोडी तांत्रिक माहिती. 
ह्या रुबाईत, प्रत्येक ओळीत १९ मात्रा आहेत.
गट ८ + ८ + ३. 
लगावली :  (गा गा गा गा) (ल गा गा ल गा) (ल गा)
असे वृत्त आहे कि नाही, ते मला माहीत नाही :-)    
मला जे सुचलं आणि जमलं ते मी लिहिलं. 

नोव्हेंबर ४, २०१८

Loose translation :
Haven’t I suffered enough scorching heat, take a look at me
At least now, even if it’s tiny, please send a gray cloud for me, 
Just a few droplets of your kindness are more than enough
To unlock the fragrance that’s waiting inside me

रुबाई क्रमांक १३

किस्सा तो रांझाचा, मजनूचा अन फरहादचा 
हा जीवनत्यागाचा कसला रे आदर्श तुमचा
सोशित अखंड विरह कसा जीवित मी आहे पहा
विसरा त्यांना, आता गझला, माझ्यावरती रचा 
Loose translation
All these stories of Raanjha, Majanu and Farhad Why do you idolize the idea of giving up on life See how I live through the endless suffering of seperation So forget them and start composing Ghazals on me

२ डिसेंबर २०१८

रुबाई क्रमांक १४

The anti-Valentine ;-)

नको बाळगू मिजास वृथा, गर्व अथवा सौंदर्याचा
दोष होता नक्कीच सगळा, त्या कोवळ्या माझ्या वयाचा
होते सहज शक्य राहणे, पाषाणासम स्तब्ध निर्मम
तरी मेणापरी वितळण्याचा, गं हट्टच होता कविमनाचा 

Loose translation
No need to get too smug, or too proud of your beauty The blame surely lies all with my immature adolescence It was easily possible to stay unaffected like a statue But to melt like a candle was the command from the poet’s heart

१४ फेब्रुवारी २०१९
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