8 days


I need to make this post as boring and as rambling as possible. Unlike the last post, in which I really wasn’t thinking- I was really frightened- in this one I am, so there will be no keywords at all.

So I have really been reading a lot. Ever since Brexit and the events that followed made me notice the world outside India, I have read and followed links on twitter to explain a world I could not understand anymore. Which ended up really frightening me, if you remember the last post, where the resemblance on Indian and American elections terrified me.

But now I have read the writings of one of the smartest man on the internet. I don’t think naming or linking to him serves any point, so I don’t think I would. His blog is really spectacular, and he is taking huge personal risks (what Taleb will call Skin in the Game) to- there is no other explanation for what he is doing- bring down the structure of government in America. This weeks twitter activity shows that he is succeeding, and succeeding so well that he had to insure himself against the possibility of murder. That innocuous and funny sounding tweet- if she has me killed I will take back my endorsement- is the most spectacular Dead Man’s Switch I have ever seen/heard of/imagined. Hiding there in plain sight. Which was the cognitive dissonance event which lead me to read practically everything he has written this year. Which brought me to the conclusion that he is doing something far more than analyzing the rise of Trump. He single-handedly undermined the dumb labelling of Trump, blowing his cover because that’s what it took to explain how Trump isn’t dumb. He has been outing politicians and behavorial psychologists- and there is a method to it. The second they come out in support of Clinton, they cross an invisible line and he ruthlessly outs them and explains their method. (The other tell that his blog is not for entertainment and education was that he never mentions the most obvious Master in the world- which told me that his naming people is not random. Steve Jobs is dead, and so is the Apple watch- which he hates- so he outs him. Rest everyone gets it when they support Clinton.

Which is oddly comforting. There are smart people out there who are trying to make the world better- and would destroy American politics if that is what it takes to do it.

The other oddly comforting thought is about India. India has been, in history, antifragile. The World Wars brought us independence, the Cold War left us cold. Even colonialism benefited us (the only people who did better under colonialism were probably the Igbos of Nigeria- and they were destroyed for good by the Nigerian civil war.) The internet has destroyed democracy in the Middle East, and the American and British democracies are imploding, but internet strengthened ours. This might change in the future (Obama’s winning had made US happy too) but remember, our democracy has 2 protest candidates.

Sorry I have a call. Bye

21 days

3 weeks since the last post.

The last post, if you remember, was about how I was alarmed by the world. The last 3 weeks I have spent reading and thinking over this, and now I am no longer that alarmed. I had a friend once, who used to say, I hope the exam is tough. Only in tough exams, the good have a real opportunity to outdo the average. And as the exams seems to be turning tougher, I am now glad for the opportunity to prove myself as good, or at east, better than average.

Maybe I too would flunk this. There is always that chance with tough exams. But thats what is fun about them.

So, lets review the preparations. I have gone back to Taleb’s advice on living in a unknown risk world, modified to my own risk appetite. The career is of course the safe part of the barbel strategy, of only doing high risk and very low risk. Current interest rates are about 7-8%, and inflation should be similar (though food inflation must be higher, and eating out of home is now practically unaffordable), so I have some money in recurring deposits which I will convert to fixed at the end of term. The high risk things are the stocks/mutual funds. I invested in the first stock whose name I liked, and have been following both that and my indexed mutual funds. I think conclusion is to stay with the funds. I suspect, but have no way of bein sure, that the large caps are more ridiculously valued than the small caps, but then, the small caps have really been beating the market this year, so I could be wrong.

Of course, like markets the world over, our stock markets do not make any sense. Indian economy is in a terrible shape, companies have terrible internal practices (Google might be overvalued too, but at least they do not actively encourage mediocrity), and education practices are a insult to the word. The education systems- schools, colleges and coachings- are currently so terrible that it makes no sense to invest in India’s future. Many smart people realize this and leave.

But increasingly, the question is, where to go? How long can the Gulf states keep out the chaos all around them? Does anyone understand whats happening with oil? Why are the prices so low? What is this Saudi Arabia is doing this to preserve market share? It is a non-renewable resource, there will always be market share! Unless electric cars destroy the petrol market- which is what we all hope for, but who knows? Anyways, so the Gulf is out. Europe is already facing a migrant crisis, and a financial crisis and can no longer pretend to be a promised land. US? God knows. Why are they trying to restart the Cold War? I read somewhere that Russia can now launch warheads from suborbital heights. Once people are willing to drop bombs from the space, we need to stop taking about Hiroshima and start talking about the asteroid that wiped off the dinosaurs!

You might say, India has a nuclear powered enemy too. India is unsafe too. I do not know. I doubt that sub-continent made bombs can really work, and I would take my chances against radiation (which is reasonably effectively blocked by concrete) than rocks hurled from space! Plus, I love India. I would rather die on the land that I love than face a pointless death on unfamiliar land.

Also, what is it with the US economy? If it was okay, this election would simply not be this much of a farce. Also, and I call myself a conspiracy nut for this too, so forgive me, but do you remember the May 2014 Indian elections? Featuring an priviledged idiot who no one took seriously, a economically left politically far right candidate (which is similar to what the Americans will call a neocon/neoliberal), and a leftwing darling with socialist policies who fought a personal battle against the neocon/neoliberal, and lost, but did not fight the main election. Do you remember the ever-rising stock market and the sad/terrible economic data? Do you remember the vague threats of impending war? Do you remember the omnipresent comparisons to Hitler?

WHY ARE AMERICAN ELECTIONS FOLLOWING THE SAME SCRIPT? There is nothing, nothing, nothing in common between US and Indian politics, except that they are- entirely different forms of- democracies.

It is this particular glitch in the matrix is bothering me. A lot. I do not know what to say to this.

6 days-

This is after reading the new email controversy around Hillary Clinton. In which it appears that the Democratic Party officials colluded with her to deny Bernie Sanders party nomination. I rarely explain context, but this is a post I might be reading for years to come.

Can Trump lose this election? At this point, it seems unlikely, as unlikely as his winning seemed in the innocent pre-Brexit  world. Since then, we have watched the descent of the entire British political system (how old is British democracy? 400 years?) into farce. And now we are watching as the American political system (250 years) goes through worse. The Republican party stands destroyed and has someone who is basically a joke candidate as a nominee. The Democrats, being shrewder, managed to save their party, but would be paying for it in the general election, being poised to nominate a candidate who simply cannot win, as things stand. Trump is the Littlefinger candidate, climbing the ladder of chaos, and there is simply too much chaos to go around. Everytime a Muslim kills white people- a almost daily thing now- Trump benefits. Everytime there is a controversy about Hillary- Trump benefits. Everytime there is political chaos anywhere in the world- a monthly occurrence now?- Trump benefits. Everytime there is a controversy about Trump’s own campaign- he benefits. How can he lose? Really?

I am glad this is a personal journal and I can say what I want without getting called on it. It feels like we are now in the era of the Decline and Fall of the American/British Empire. It began with the collapse of the financial systems in 2008- and they haven’t recovered. Now they have dragged down robust , stable, centuries old democracies with them. Next, I can’t help but feel, would be the loss of hegemony of the American/British university system, as education becomes prohibitively expensive and knowledge becomes free.

And then what? Important question, what happens to India? It seems like the 10 year “policy paralysis” has protected us from the worst of last decade’s policies. Our banks are also shit, but they are nationalized, so should be simpler to recapitalize. Our politicians are evil, but simply not on the scale of Bush/Blair/Clinton. (Aside- Is this why they say sedition laws have no place in modern democracies? So that politicians can get away with the outright sedition which was revealed in #28pages?)

We are in terrible shape. Our education systems are shit, and our way of teaching basically destroys talent. The British and the Americans ruled the world from the strength of their schools and colleges, and that model of progress seems closed to us. The dictatorships do well enough, but we are too fond of our democracy to go that way. (I might be wrong, but that’s what I feel). Climate change is really going to screw us over. So I suppose I do not know.

Almost a month

What a week!

It feels like we are approaching some sort of an endgame, as if the first act is over and now we are in the second act, setting the scene for the final act.

Reading my twitter timeline reminds me of the time I first read Sherlock Holmes, when I was 11 and had the vaguest notions about the First World War. All the political maneuverings in the stories felt vaguely significant, but those books were ignorant of the future, and so was I. Now re-reading them knowing what happened 20 years later, they present a picture of a world on the brink of a devastating war, the last days of a way of life. In the 90s and the subsequent decade, when I read Sherlock Holmes and then Agatha Christie, world news was simply not important. We did not think of what was happening in Europe. News was local, terrorism was local, economics was personal, and money was doing well. Now, everything is global, and world finance is lurching from one day to the other, being held up by band-aids. The borderline insane Zerohedge is the only news source which makes some sense, which has a coherent explanation of things. I am not a conspiracy theory type person, but what can one even think when conspiracy theories come up with testable predictions which come true?

Again, for all the words I have devoted to Antifragile here, I do not like NN Taleb’s twitter at all. Yet, again and again, his predictions come true. He kept saying Trump will win, and Trumps win seems certain with every passing day. He kept saying that countries are stable where all risks are out in the open and there is continuous bickering over local issues. Isn’t that why Indian politicians have not done what amounts to sedition- it might be a “outdated” concept in the modern world, but that is exactly what Bush and Blair’s crime is called.

I never talked about it, but the History of the Third Reich by Richard Evans is one of my favorite books. Among other things, it shows how reality has a left bias, and how far-right beliefs destroyed a country and a world. What bothers me is that events are now showing the opposite. Rightwing xenophobia is now the most sensible way of looking at the world.

And that is horrifying.

18 days

I was going to talk about other things, important things. About how institutions get destroyed and the consequences of that, and how a nation may not necessarily recover from the consequences, but then I watched today’s Game of Thrones episode.

It drives everything else from the mind, doesn’t it? Also reminded me of a blogpost I read many years ago- I can’t find it now- when the show hadn’t yet reached the Red Wedding and the books were famed for subverting expectations and how “anyone could die”. The author pointed out that Jon and Dany were the only heros, and they did have plot armor. Now of course it is obvious. Last week on LARB Dear Television Sarah Mesle and Aaron Brady wondered if there could even be spoilers anymore. There weren’t. No unexpected notes in this awesome episode. It was unspoilerable. Even next weeks burning of King’s Landing is inevitable. This is now high fantasy, and the laws of narrative will rule. Dumb heroic decisions no longer make you lose, they make you a hero. An orphan must be a lost prince, the cavalry will arrive in time.

As a aside, Jon Snow is so much like Corporal Carrot. A lost king, honorable, boring, with an interesting kick-ass girlfriend and memorable hair. But Pratchett was a truly great writer and understood the laws of narrative in ways GRRM never could (and the showwriters can’t write any plots- that is for sure). Carrot subverted expectations in ways Jon Snow could never know.

In fact that is an interesting thought experiment. How would Pratchett write this? Lets recap, Arya is Tiffany Aching, Tyrion could have been Vetinari in the hands of an intelligent writer- but Vetinari would deal with White Walkers in about 10 minutes, there would be no suspense. Jon is Carrot, Ned Stark is Vimes. Oleanna Tyrell is a watered down Nanny Ogg (not cool enough to be Granny). Dany has no analogue, you can be charitable and put that down to originality, or you can be logical and point out that Dany and her Weapons of Mass Destruction need to exist because Westeros does not have Vetinari/Vimes. A Lannister-Stark alliance could have dealt with the long winter and White-Walkers. They wouldn’t have needed dragons. Dragons can be the cute fire-breathing pets Lady Vimes keeps. Maybe Lady Vimes is Dany!

Pratchett’s characters deal with problems greater than Zombies vs Dragons. They speak and act against xenophobia because Vetinari understands the need to unite his people, and Vimes is a nice person. They work for a free press. They fight against religious fundamentalism. Vetinari commits to liberal values not because he is a liberal- he isn’t- but because they make a nation-state powerful. He finds Vimes in a gutter and hangs on to him. To stay away from allegory and go back to Westeros, the Lannisters would have poisoned Dany and her baby dragons -keeping the raping Dothraki away from Westeros, and the Starks would have defended the wall against the White Walkers. Tywin or Tyrion would find a way to get Joffery out and manipulate Tommen for the rest of his life. Sounds too easy, doesn’t it?

3 days

I am back!

I wasn’t feeling well, some of it was simple exhaustion, and some was sunstroke, but I couldn’t go to work and have slept the whole day. So it is 11 pm and I am wide awake.

This is going to be a bit disjointed because my thoughts are a bit disjointed right now. Reading is a bit like a drug, it keeps you from dwelling on your problems. However, unlike alcohol and drugs, which trap you in your own mind, books trap you in other people’s. One gains perspective*.

And ultimately, one gets to leave the dance floor and look at things from the balcony of other peoples thoughts. I have done that, over the past week or so. (Chiefly because of an annoying habit of forgetting my spectacles at home, which means that I can’t read without getting an headache.) As a result of which, after 30 years of being successful at exams, I have come to think of myself as a failure. I love my profession, but I can’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life, maybe just for the next 5 years. Which is so antithetical to the tenets of my childhood, and my education. After 30 years of perfect life, right decisions (I can defend everyone of them, even the ones which turned out to be not so great- they were right when and where I had to take them) I find that I do not know what I want to do next. Which is perhaps a great thing. Admitting that we do not know something is the first step towards finding out the answer. (Insert the story of Amerigo Vespucci, who got 2 continents named after him because he admitted that no one knew what was there.)

From: http://blogs.cornell.edu/olinuris/2012/03/20/map-exhibition-marks-500th-anniversary-of-amerigo-vespuccis-death/comment-page-1/

So. Anyways. Somedays I do not know who I am and what I want. Somedays I know. I look back at the life I have led, and its simple A to B to C nature. And I think of that maxim- I don’t remember who said this and where I read this, but I will look up- if another person can get the same education and same experiences and can do the same job you do, your job can be done by a machine. My first instinct was to say, most other people do not do my job very well. But that is simply not adequate. I am so much more than my degree and work experience. I can do so much more.

I want this crisis of confidence. This time, I want to take my time. This time, I do not want the straight line and the checked boxes. This time I want to take a complex path, not so easily definable. I know India is a terrible country, full of terrible people with terrible work ethic, but out of the crooked timber of humanity, what straight thing was ever made? I will make it work. I will find a way. I will change things. Just you wait.

*Ever since I read Love in a Cold Climate, and saw the TV movie, I can’t help think of the gay heir to the earldom everytime I type One. So I do it quite a lot, deliberately. I know it is annoying, poor reader.

19 days

Its getting longer, and longer between the posts, isn’t it? I blame Game of Thrones!

Anyways, I read this post on Marginal Revolution on how the world has become nicer, and there are people who just don’t do well in a nice world. He has a point, but I have a similar, but sort of economic explanation.

I first thought of this when I was reading Sapiens. I think I have said this before here? Surely, if banks go bust every thirty years or so, with some regularity, bankers should have figured out things by now, and changed? But, as Peter Pronovost was saying in a Coursera course I was watching the other day, every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets. Modern banking, with frequent failures built into the system, has got us into the modern world. So maybe those failures are a feature and not a bug?

Think of the investment bankers you know. Or at least, the ones I know. Without exception, they are bright, smart, well brought up middle class kids (the kind of people Tyler Cowen called nice). These kids have had a typically safe childhood, free of bad things and bad people. Their parents generally keep their promises, and provide safe spaces. A childhood like that makes you well-disposed towards fellow humans, makes you trust. Trust, remember, is the currency banking operates in.The whole imaginary edifice of money rests on trust, and- and this is the important bit- when it meets reality, and fails, governments step in and bails it out. By naively- or maybe shrewdly- trusting everyone, bankers have created a world in which someone will always repay their money.

When you get a world which runs on trust, the only way to do well in it is to play the cooperation game. One must be “trustworthy”. One must be “nice”. Must default to cooperate when forced to choose between that and defecting. There is that only way to win.

Which is problematic for the kids who do not learn to trust. Distrust is our default human emotion, being around my daughter has taught me that. In the absence of the safety nets of young childhood, people may never learn to trust blindly, and do not do well in such a trust soaked world.

Also, since I cannot think for 10 minutes without bringing in Game of Thrones, look at Westeros. Anyone half-way competent is either dead, or dismissed as unimportant because they do not function well in a power based society. To borrow from Taleb, that has made Westeros fragile, and so vulnerable to outside threats. Just look at Sansa once she has found someone she trusts and who has the power to defend her. In a nice world people would have worked together and the White Walkers would simply not be the existential threat they have become. Ramsay and Roose can outmaneuver the Starks, yes. But that’s not the point of Game of Thrones (unlike, say, House of Cards). The point was that the Starks could have, and probably still can, deal with the White Walkers. And to circle back to my earlier point, the Starks have had safe, uncomplicated, pleasant childhoods, as children of a powerful, and very nice parents.