Monday, August 07, 2017

Think Like Einstein by Peter Hollins - a Book Review

When 2017 began, I made a resolution that I would read more books this year than the previous year. So much distraction these days! Endless applications, Facebook, Instagram, news from every corner of the globe, forums of any kind -- where is the time to read good quality books? From my childhood I have always liked reading but noticed that I have been reading less and less in recent years. So that was the reason I made the resolution to give an honest effort to read more.

As part of this effort, the latest book I have completed reading earlier this morning is Peter Hollins' non fiction book, title: Think Like Einstein. I am writing this review as detail as I can, hoping that someone will get some benefits reading this review and hopefully will be inspired to read this particular book and overall to read more good quality books for rewarding feat.

Einstein's intellect is legendary. His contributions to the realm of science is widely known, even when I was growing up I heard his name uttered in reverence from my paternal grandfather who was an avid reader. 

It took me some time to get into the rhythm of the book though it started with two good riddles. The writer then unfolds various techniques that if used well can help thinking better. Almost like Einstein! I wish it were true. In my humble opinion, the intellect like Einstein is a rarity, though I agree with the premise of Peter Hollins that with dedicated efforts one can enhance one's intellect many folds. 

Chapter 1 talks about "Obstacles to Clarity of Thought". The writer gives 4 main reasons for why thinking clearly is not as easy as it should be for many. These are: 

1. Inertia and Sloth
2. Incorrect Logic
3. Incorrect Perception
4. Rigid Thinking

Inertia and Sloth - means we humans (most of us) by design are very lazy. We don't want to work more than what is needed to achieve our goals and after achieving the goals we abandon the efforts altogether. The writer gives an analogy here. It is like two scenarios: a ten minute car trip and a ten hour car trip. For a ten minute ride, the planning can be non existent, in most cases, but for a ten hour trip one must plan well. The problem is that most of us use the same strategy of 10 minute car trip into 10 hour car trip, so obviously causing problem. Peter Hollins writes: "we are taking the path of least resistance and only picking the lowest hanging fruit in the hopes it will get us where we need to be. We might solve the immediate problem we are facing, or get through to the next moment, but it definitely isn't the way of clearest or optimal thinking". Here is one more good quote on Inertia and Sloth: "Just because you were able to make an immediate problem go away doesn't mean you actually know how to solve it." This type of thinking lead to "close-mindedness" and stubbornness. 

The second obstacle to clear thinking is "Incorrect Logic". Here Peter Hollins gives examples of Logical fallacies as the prime reason of Incorrect Logic. What are logical fallacies? These "are errors in thinking that occur because we see an argument and don't necessarily examine it deeply enough to see that the argument isn't actually very convincing". 

The third obstacle to clear thinking is "Incorrect Perception". "Incorrect perception, typically known as cognitive bias, makes people think 1 + 1 = 3 and believe it to be true. Incorrect logic lies in the end result, where incorrect perception lies in the thought process." 

The fourth obstacle to clear thinking is "Rigid Thinking": it is also known as being "close minded" that leads to the unwillingness to consider different points of view. Looking at the polarized world of ours, where many of us abhors the thought of being disputed of our firm belief on any particular subject, may that be philosophical, political, social or economical outlook, Peter Hollins does good job driving this basic point well: "these harm your clear thinking because people tend to create a subjective worldview out of wholly objective events. Events themselves are neutral, and are only positive or negative based on the worldview one holds towards them. It's imperative to be able to see both sides and step outside the box of your rigid thinking.

In the second chapter of the book, Peter Hollins presents three frameworks of thinking: The Facione Six Part Model of Critical Thinking, The RED Model of Thinking and the Paul-Elder Model of Critical Thinking. I found this chapter has good information but mostly a dry chapter comparing to the other ones in the book. Don't get me wrong though. I have highlighted some important terminologies and their meaning as a kind of refresher, though basic concepts, but still good to re-read. 

Some of these quotations I've saved from this chapter are: 

Interpretation asks, "What am I seeing exactly, and am I missing anything?"

Analysis asks, "\What does this mean to me and why?"

"Inference is the ability to read between the lines and understand that information is missing, and make an educated guess about what it might be." 

"Evaluation asks, "Is this information good, valid, and reliable, or do I not trust it?""

"Explanation is the ability to present and break down information in a simple way such that almost anyone can understand it." 

"Self-regulation is the ability to think about your own thinking. It's to take a step outside your own head and determine if you are comprehending, or thinking about something, effectively." 

In third chapter of the book, Peter Hollins writes about "Creative Problem Solving". I like the definition he presents: "It's typically about making a connection between unrelated concepts, or suddenly understanding the underlying concepts that make a problem solvable". He also contrasts between problem solving and creative problem solving with good examples. 

He also has good advice about committing and producing as "committing is one of the options that are milling around your head will inevitably get you closer to a solution than thinking about your options, even if you end up being wrong. When you walk down a path, you will gain tools, knowledge, and experience to help you understand the problem as a whole and what might be missing from your solution." - good observation. If I'm remembering it correctly I had read similar observations from two other books in the past, first one was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and the second one is "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions" by James E. Ryan. 

In Chapter 4, the writer describes The Socratic Method - it is basically following ancient Greek method named after the famous philosopher Socratis - where one asks many questions to understand the true meaning of an assertions and while doing that finding any weakness and gap in the assertion. Here is a good quote: "if you are mercilessly questioned and picked apart with Socratic questioning, what remains afterwards will be heavily tested, validated and rock solid". 

In Chapter 5, Peter Hollins gives pointers on how make smarter decisions in life. Many of us feel indecision when facing crossroads in life, "We're indecisive because we don't want to be judged negatively. It's often a confidence issue as opposed to a pickiness issue." The techniques to be decisive and making good decisions are: 

1. Know that almost every decision is reversible
2. Apply good filters and boundaries to help making the decision

In Chapter 6 the writer describes the way to find one's intelligence type. One good point that he observes that I also had read in other articles is that a high IQ score might be correlated with traditional type of success and higher education, but it certainly doesn't cause success in itself. 

8 intelligence types that are provided in this chapter are: 

1. Linguistic and verbal 
2. Logical - mathematical 
3. Visual - spatial 
4. Body - movement 
5. Musical 
6. Interpersonal
7. Intrapersonal
8. Naturalist

In Chapter 7 the writer gives some pointers on how to make our brain run in optimal levels

The techniques described are: 

1. Prevent burning out by doing nothing - like sleeping good number of hours everyday, for example eight hours a night. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can also bring tremendous benefit in this regard. 

2. Do the toughest work/thinking at the right time of a day or night when the brain is naturally at its best. 

3. Eat good food and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid food like sugar, dairy and gluten (though I think meat and fish should have been included in this list by the writer) and good food list includes vegetables, ginger, green veggies and turmeric that fights inflammation in brain cells called miroglia. 

4. De-stress. "Manage your stress; manage your brainpower. Diet, exercise, adequate sleep, hydration and meditation have all been tied to lower stress."

Chapter 8 gives good explanation on different types memories, like sensory, short term and long term and how we can retain more information in our memories for longer. Some of the techniques mentioned are spaced repetition, usage of flashcards, mnemonics, stories and using of senses, especially using smell to trigger memories. 

In Chapter 9 the writer debunks some of the widely held notion (to him these are all lies). Here are the list: 

1. The Mozart Effect: classical music like Mozart, Beethoven do not help think better
2. Chess can be helpful improving certain individual skills but it does not makes one smarter. 
3. Brain training games like Neurotracer, Cogmed, Lumosity are useless. However, there is scientific evidence that aerobic exercise causes biochemical and hormone-related changes that literally increase the size of your brain. So there is some hope.

Chapter 10 gives some good primer on how humanity gets fooled by myriads of data centric opinion and news feed that bombards us everyday from zillion sources. Interpreting the world around us is increasingly dependant on how to evaluate data thrown at us. Most of us take data presented at a face value without asking the critical questions to check its validity or truthfulness. We get fooled by clever filters put by others to sway an opinion. Here are some of the pointers Peter Hollins makes: 

"Correlation is not causation" - "Just because two things occur at the same time means absolutely nothing -- it's as good as a coincidence without actual evidence to say otherwise."

"The Gambler's Fallacy" - it's the feeling that there are predictable patterns in what are actually random and independent events. 

"Selection Bias" - it happens when data presented is highly skewed and inaccurate because the data points involved aren't actually random. 

"Margin of Error" - measures the accuracy of the sample data.

In Chapter 11 the writer describes how to generate good creative ideas. Here are the techniques: 

1. Brainstorm ideas as prolifically as possible
2. Embrace outlandish ideas during ideation as it will open up new possibilities 
3. Setting a deadline on generating ideas can be beneficial as it can be motivating
4. Use each letter of alphabet and come up with new idea that starts with a specific letter, it will give 26 ideas at the least. 

In Chapter 12 the writer gives pointers on how to develop good judgement. Here is the list he covered: 

1. Balanced Viewing: It's like seeing the forest and the trees with equal importance by not diminishing the significance of either.
2. Understand Deductive Reasoning - "operate on hypotheses to make sense of data".
3. Skepticism - never believe everything you hear - see evidence before forming a solid opinion on anything. 
4. Recognizing our own bias:  by recognizing our own bias we will be self aware more that will help making good judgement. 

In Chapter 13, Peter Hollins describes, though briefly, how Einstein's thought process was. Einstein used thought experiment like "What If" scenario to its end to determine if a theory or hypothesis was true. 

In the very last chapter, Conclusion, the writer provides the answer to the riddle that he presented in the first chapter and ends the book with a positive note to readers: "Sharpening your insight isn't just about being more observant or solving logic riddles. That might be where it starts, but it can have a very real positive effect on your life." 

Peter Hollins' Think Like Einstein is a book full of good wisdom. Some of these may feel very basic to many, but even then refreshing these "basics" can bring benefits in one's life. 

I heartily recommend this book.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Caine Mutiny - a short review

A great entertaining novel by a powerful writer. Character building and the story plot were nicely executed. Sometimes it felt a bit too long but in the end I have enjoyed reading this book. Through vivid detail of tumultuous ocean, typhoon, the writer provided a sense of how insignificant humanity and civilization are in the face of a infinitesimal nature. Here is a memorable quote:

"what was Ulithi, after all? A tiny enclosure of coral in the empty, empty ocean. A ship sailing within ten miles of it wouldn’t even have seen it; and all the great Third Fleet, sinking at once, would not have raised the level of the sea by a thousandth of the breadth of a hair. The world’s arena remains, to this hour, somewhat too big for the most ambitious human contrivances."

I recommend this book.

We are the Borg - a Poem

We are the Borg
Resistance is futile
You will be assimilated, defeated
Your uniqueness, distinctiveness
and your pursuit of happiness,
life, liberty and dreams
will be shredded into clean pieces
and will be recycled into our mould

Resistance is futile
We are the Borg
We have come in style
To bring you freedom
and wealth, abundance
We will flourish together
Discarding the undesirables
Only the best of the best
Strongest of the strongest
Will triumph over the weak
We will swipe away
the compassionate freak

We are the Borg, the mighty, the beautiful
Give us your smart, vigorous pomp
We will stifle the wretched, the tired,
the poor and the huddled masses
into happiest quack, playful romp
And send us the homeless
We will transform them into statues
of liberties, of beautiful homes
for all to see and applause
in glorious days and victorious nights
Beside the neatly trimmed garden.
the golden door and a doused torch

----Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 2, 2017
Note: Some of the words are taken from Statue of Liberty Poem: New Colossus and a fictional alien character "The Borg" from Star Trek series.

Here is the original one:

The New Colossus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here is the excerpt from Star Trek series where the Borg speaks: ""We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.""

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Two Books - Fiction and Non Fiction - Wait...What?

Two books I have read recently. One is Graeme Macrae Burnet's novel "His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to Roderick Macrae" and the second one is a non fiction written by James E. Ryan, title: "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions".

I have enjoyed reading both of these well written books.

Graeme Macrae Burnet's novel has good character development, and written such a way as if one is reading a non fiction account of an actual event. I am familiar with Scottish and Irish history, not a whole lot, but some through my other readings in the past. However, this particular novel describes the tragic life of a boy who was brought up in poverty in a remote Scottish village. What surprised me is so much similarities I have found between the central antagonist, the village constable who bullies a poor family and takes advantage of their plight and the rural villages in Bangladesh, where I was familiar with similar characters that used to be known as "Morol", or village leader, and some of them were as horrendous and brutes as the horrific character that Graeme Macrae Burnet written in his novel.

The main character, Roderick, had a tough life, lost his mother during child birth, had a rigid father who didn't know how to show love toward his children. Roderick was a gifted boy, so much so that his school teacher had urged him to pursue higher studies, but Roderick was loyal to his family so he stayed by them. Roderick's observations of injustice that the village constable was causing to his family and others in the village was heart breaking. In the end, the story turns to violence and innocent lives were lost for which Roderick had to pay ultimate price though most possibly, according to her lawyer, Roderick was mentally ill, however, in that time of nineteenth century, it was not easy to prove his case.

James E. Ryan's non fiction book "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions" is based on the writer's commencement speech at Harvard University where he is the Dean of Graduate School of Education.

The writing is effective as the writer points out several fundamental aspects of life that can help one get most out of his or her life. The very first pointer is to ask good questions without hesitation. It is by asking questions we can understand a true nature of a problem before jumping to a premature conclusion.

The second point that the writer point is to be curious at heart by asking "I Wonder..."? Being curious helps a person learn more about the world, our very existence, the universe and any other similarly perplexing questions. Curiosity is one of the biggest reasons that propelled humanity to its progress at this level I believe. The writer also correctly points out that curiosity leads to empathy. He writes, "Curious people are likely to be healthier, and to experience less anxiety in particular, because they see new situations as an opportunity to learn rather than an opportunity to realise that they don't know enough." The reason I find the writer's point is described well is because he had cited some of his own personal experiences including his search for his biological mother that is heart touching.

The third question that the write points out is "Couldn't we at least...?" - can really be effective as I can attest to this after using it to make my 3 year old son brush his teeth before going to bed. In a situation when things may seem difficult to solve, taking small steps perhaps can be helpful in many settings. Here is a quotation from the book, ""Couldn't we at least....?" is a good way to get unstuck. It is a way to get past disagreement to form some consensus...It's also a way to get started even when you're not entirely sure where you will finish, as in: "Couldn't we at least begin?.....The key to maintaining healthy and productive relationships is consensus...whether in politics, business, marriage, or friendship. Asking "Couldn't we at least agree?" especially in the midst of an argument, is a good way to pause, step back, and look for some areas of agreement."

Coming to negotiation, a middle ground, is difficult these days, as the writer refers to "group polarization" - "When like-minded individuals get together, online or in real life, they tend to reinforce each other's views. They not only increase the strength of each other's convictions, but they often lead each other, intentionally or not, to take even more extreme positions.....Asking "Couldn't we at least agree?" is a way to push back against polarization and extremism, because it is an invitation to find some areas of consensus. If you can find some common ground with others, especially those with different views, you are likely to see the world as a more nuanced place. At the very least, you are less likely to demonize those with whom you disagree."

The fourth question that the writer talks about is "How Can I Help?" - trying to help others is humane. Every human being is going through his or her journey of life, his or her stress from work, family, career, money issues, health, fear, anxiety, etc. Sometime we prejudge a person without knowing the full story. Being proactive and asking the question "How Can I Help?" "You will come to appreciate that.....It is the question that forms the base of all good relationships. It is a question that signals that you care. It signals a willingness to help. But it also signals respect, humility, and likelihood that, in the end, it is you who will be helped just as much." Good point.

The fifth question is "What Truly Matters?" that helps to differentiate between the really important and trivial. Here is a quote: "My only suggestion is that you regularly ask this question - of others, for sure. But more importantly, you should ask this question of yourself, and you should answer it honestly and fearlessly. If you do, this question won't just help you get to the bottom of an issue or a problem. It will also help you get to the heart of your life."

The writer has a last question as a bonus: "And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?" - human life is full of pain but also of sheer joy and happiness. By being bold, lending helping hands to others, not prejudging anyone, trying to getting into consensus, having empathy and sympathy for others, staying curious at heart forever, knowing the difference between the most important and the trivial matters and being humble can quite possibly lead one to say a resounding yes to the question: "And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?"

The following sentence by the writer sums it up well: "A sure way to feel beloved yourself is to help others feel the same."

Saturday, January 28, 2017

First They Came For ...

The problem is not only the disgraceful Muslim ban, the shameful wall, the taking away of privacy protection from many immigrants and non immigrants. It is also the ingrained belief in many that this banning decree only applies to those people from hand picked nations. History has the abundance of similar scenarios when the most vulnerable segments of the world were barred from leaving the persecutions of despot rulers. Many of them perished, children, women, men, emaciated, degraded to the utmost bottom level of a concerted dehumanization process. Yesterday's Remembrance Day for the Holocaust victims is one of the painful reminders of our world's blunder of the past.

My heart goes out to the countless millions in America, Europe and many other places, where the unmistakable xenophobia is rising in alarming speed. The ironic part is that the most victims of the violence, wars and senseless terrorism are the Muslims. They are the ones along with the other minorities trying desperately leaving the war and violence ravaged lands, mama and papa clinging to their toddler son and daughter, while grandma and grandpa hobbling along the ruinous roads and crumbled buildings.

Staying silent in the face of flagrant oppression is not an option as it tantamount to be complicit with the narcissistic oppressors. Being fearful to utter protestation is not fruitful either, and changing colour like a chameleon is ridiculously ineffective in the end, as Pastor Niemoller had captured it so eloquently many years ago during Hitler's time of inglorious prowess:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This can be rephrased in contemporary terms:

First they came for the natives, and I did not speak out --Because I was not native 
Then they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Black 
Then they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Mexican 
Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out --Because I was not disabled 
Then they came for the gay, lesbian and transgender, and I did not speak out --Because I was not gay, lesbian or transgender 
Then they came for the protesting women, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not woman
Then they came for the poor white, and I did not speak out --Because I was not poor white
Then they came for the Muslim, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Muslim 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Also, the Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl's immortal words from Man's Search for Meaning should be a constant reminder for our easily distracted and subdued souls:

"Danger only threatens when a political system sends those not-decent people, i.e., the negative element of a nation, to the top. And no nation is immune from doing this, and in this respect every nation is in principle capable of a Holocaust!"

"only two types of politicians: the first are those who believe that the end justifies the means, and that could be any means . . . While the other type of politician knows very well that there are means that could desecrate the holiest end. And it is this type of politician whom I trust"

"What then is man? Thus we ask the question again. He is a being that always decides what it is. A being that has within it at one and the same time the possibility of sinking to the level of an animal or of soaring to a life of near-holiness. Man is that being which invented the gas chambers; but he is at the same time that being which walked with head held high into these very same gas chambers".

May the world and its trusted leaders and citizenry see the light of compassion before another terrible blunder is made.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I'd published the following review in Goodreads on January 4, 2017: 

Some in this world are indeed brave and full of compassion. The author of this remarkable non fiction book, Bryan Stevenson, is surely one of them.

This is an impactful book that gives detail on the sordid state of criminal justice system in the US, world's one of the most advanced nations in terms of economy and societal progress. If US is in such a painful state where equal justice and protection for all citizens needs an urgent transformative overhaul, then what can be said about other nations where democracy and human rights are in unstable ground?

In my humble opinion, this should be a must read book as I believe the real life pain and anguish of the innocent people who are denied the fair justice for so many years can help people who are unaware of this miserable justice system can help raise the awareness for the necessary correction in the system.

Some of the invaluable lessons I have learned are:

"mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion."

"The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."

"An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others."

"people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather “an orientation of the spirit.” The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong."

"being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity."

"we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent. A system that denies the poor the legal help they need, that makes wealth and status more important than culpability, must be changed. Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, or a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous."

Thank you Bryan Stevenson for your honest and steadfast work.

This magnificent book reminded me another great book I was fortunate to read last year. It is Victor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. There are remarkable similarities in the noble concept of just mercy that Bryan Stevenson elaborated through various heartbreaking case studies with Victor E. Frankl's painstaking reminder what goodness of humanity can achieve. Here are a few excerpts from that book that I find go hands in hands with Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy:

"What then is man? Thus we ask the question again. He is a being that always decides what it is. A being that has within it at one and the same time the possibility of sinking to the level of an animal or of soaring to a life of near-holiness. Man is that being which invented the gas chambers; but he is at the same time that being which walked with head held high into these very same gas chambers, the Lord’s Prayer or the Jewish prayer for the dead on his lips."

Another excerpt: 

"And in their last words there was not a single word of hatred—only words of longing came from their lips—and words of forgiveness; for what they hated, and what we hate, is never people. One must be able to forgive people. What they hated was simply the system—the system that made some guilty and drove others to their death."

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

This year I will give my best to read as many good books as I can. The year started well. Yesterday I finished reading an excellent novel written by Eowyn Ivey. Here is the short review I've written in goodreads: 

An excellent read. So vivid and lively with wild Alaska imageries! For a few days while reading this poetically written novel I felt like transported to 1885, seeing the breathtaking journeys of Allen Forrester, Tillman, Pruit, Samuelson, Boyd and unforgettable Nataaggi along with Boyo through the harsh wintry Alaskan landscape, Indian villages and spirit full mountain pass leaping out from masterfully constructed words and scenes. Sophie's passion of photography, her patience and determination capturing the "light" around birds are uplifting.

Throughout the adventure of the main story the core human condition, the existential vulnerabilities, the strong's severe abuse of the weak, and the yearning for redemption in guilt conscious mind are depicted well. 

This is also a love story as the separation between Allen and Sophie during the long expedition and Tillman's longing for Nataaggi are written with melancholic sorrow. 

I have also enjoyed Walt and Josh's letter exchanges, clarifying the main story in historical context. I am looking forward to read this outstanding writer's many more books in future.

The following are two memorable excerpts from this book I's noted in my kindle, there are many like poetic observations throughout the book: 
"There is a mythical element to our childhood, it seems, that stays with us always. When we are young, we consume the world in great gulps, and it consumes us, and everything is mysterious and alive and fills us with desire and wonder, fear, and guilt. With the passing of the years, however, those memories become distant and malleable, and we shape them into the stories of who we are. We are brave, or we are cowardly. We are loving, or we are cruel."
"The forest has always had such an effect on my spirits, the moment slows until I can see the intricacies, bright and pure, like removing the back of a pocket watch to see the shining metal gears turning, turning."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Bangladesh, Shelter the Persecuted Rohingyans

When Bangladeshi men, women and children fled from their homeland in 1971 during the time of horrible war, neighbours helped them with open arms. People in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Asham went beyond their means welcoming Bangladeshi refugees, sheltered them, gave them food, clothes and overall they provided the persecuted refugees protection from the wrath of the war.
In 21st century, the recent misfortunes of the persecuted Rohinguya people from Myanmar, is not well reported, as other bigger conflicts from the geopolitically volatile regions get the limelight, overshadowing the tears, agonies and anguish of the bereft Rohinguya families. Bangladesh was born from the ashes of the war, from the pain and millions of innocent people's deaths in intense nine months war. It is time for Bangladesh comes forward with open arms and accept all the persecuted people from Rohingya. Yes, economically it will not be an easy task, most noble and compassionate undertaking are difficult to do, but it is the right thing to do. Over time, Bangladesh can seek international donors' assistance, but at this desperate time, please shelter the war ravaged Rohinguya people without hesitation.
I am also urging the United Nations to take the rightful and timely steps: first do an impartial and thorough investigation to determine what is happening in Myanmar's Rakhine state where per Human Rights Watch article: "satellite pictures from Myanmar's troubled Rakhine State reveal mass destruction in ethnic Rohinguya villages." Some of the description from this tragedy is heart wrenching: 
"A Rohingya man named Salaman told AFP he had helped to bury a man and a woman who were shot by soldiers on Saturday. 
“Soldiers came in to Doetan village in the evening of the 19th about 5pm,” he reportedly said. “Most of the men from the village ran away because they are afraid of being arrested and tortured. Then they started shooting and two were killed.” 
Rights activist Chris Lewa, whose Arakan Project NGO operates in Maungdaw, confirmed the account and said two babies were also swept away as villagers tried to escape across a river. 
Since then 100 people have reportedly been killed, hundreds detained by the military and at least 30,000 have fled. Numerous women claim to have been raped by troops.

Image credit:
"A Rohingya Muslim man and his son cry after being caught by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) while illegally crossing at a border check point in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 21, 2016

Image credit:
A Rohinguya Muslim woman and her son cry after being caught by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) while illegally crossing at a border check point in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 21, 2016

Photo Credit: Associated Press
 In this June 13, 2012 file photo, a Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

American Choice

Election day in America is only few days away. It's Sunday night and the election is on Tuesday. The entire world looks to be on the edge. I have followed all the American elections from the beginning of my political consciousness and also was fortunate to take two rigorous American History and two American Government courses while studying at American universities. The intense debates between the right and the left, and the festive atmosphere of the campaigns, stump speeches, endless news analysis, these are all part of this intriguing election process.

In 21st century, like its predecessor 20th century, America is still looked upon as the beacon of hope in most parts of our wold. When subjugated people in severely autocratic ruled nation march in protest filled processions, many look upon American style of freedom of speech, representational democracy and its allure of modernity and a nation based on tolerance and decency.

Yes, nothing is perfect in this world, not is America. It has its flaws. Unfortunate racial tensions, gun violence, the lengthening gap between have and have not, these are all part of this flawed democratic system. Among all these terribleness, America is still a dream nation for most of the populace of our world. The glitzy movies from Hollywood, the heart bursting super unhealthy but 'delicious' burger, enthralling music album of American great singers and musicians, novels and non fictions of first class caliber writers, and super human American athletes from almost all kinds of sports, from basketball to football to baseball to swimming, among many other best of the best kinds personalities, entities or simple myths, the relatively near past and contemporary world populace look at America as the greatest nation of our world, and wants their own nation to emulate American success story.

"Make America Great Again" - when I hear this mouthful slogan from the Republican candidate Donald Trump - the first thing that comes to my mind as an avid reader of American history is that America is already a great nation, and perhaps the greatest of all nations in world's history of homo sapiens.

Yes, where criticism is due I was never hesitant to utter my criticisms, including the horrible invasion of Iraq in 2003 and many other fiasco during Bush/Cheney Presidency. I was vocal whenever I could against any forms of human rights abuse, killings and injuring of innocent civilians including women and children by that merciless war and its aftermath. Unless it is absolutely needed to protect innocent civilians from a desperate situation, war should always be the last resort as time and time again it has been proven in human history that diplomatic solution is the best option in overwhelmingly majority cases.

Like many I felt puzzled seeing the improbable rise of Donald Trump. I used to love his TV reality show The Apprentice, waited eagerly to see how he handled the final board room confrontations and uttered the fateful words: "You are fired". However, the Donald Trump that emerged during this Presidential Election campaign was shocking. I had also read a book that Donald Trump wrote with Guy Kawasaki about a decade ago, and if my memory is serving me correctly, it is about making the reader rich by becoming a good investor. Throughout the entire election campaign I felt that the Donald Trump I had known about from his popular show The Apprentice and the well written book I had read before, is not the same. His depiction of Mexicans as the rapists and drug traffickers, denigrating the comparatively tiny minority American Muslim community by insisting and unmistakably insinuating that all Muslims are somehow complicit to all the horrible crimes and violence committed by thugs and terrorists are beyond comprehension for me. Then came the disgusting "locker room banter" where Mr. Trump was boasting his "celebrity" status where he could do anything to women is jaw dropping. Only thing I could think was how can a great nation like America let this type of candidate representing one of the major parties?

Undoubtedly, Hilary Clinton is the most experienced and versatile candidate in comparison to Donald Trump. Her impeccable resume filled with super duper educational background, law career where she fought for the marginalized of the society, her heart felt efforts to bring universal health care to America while she was the First Lady, being the Senator of New York and the agonizing campaign against President Obama and later becoming the Secretary of State. She is articulate, passionate in her cause and a champion fighter like the greatest boxer Muhammad Ali was in his prime and can still win the hard fought bout. I am not sure if there is any other American politician who has gone through so much scrutiny and criticism,, mostly unfair in my humble opinion, than Hilary.

American voters are now in the driving seat. They will choose one candidate to be the next American President. Not even 48 hours left when the voting begins in this most indecent and intolerable election campaign I have observed. So much political division with electrifying polarization. So much bigotry filled words, negative portrayals of the opposing candidate and manipulating prospective voters' emotions by making them afraid of the most vulnerable segments of its society. The sooner this election season ends, the better it is. At least one can hope that much.

Whoever wins on Tuesday, I don't know how he or she would bring the nation together after portraying each other the devil with horns. But I have trust in American checks and balance based democracy.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Literary Reading's Steady Decline

So much options, so little time. This is the dilemma of the modernity of abundance. Binging in movies and endless TV series in so easily available wonderful Netflix streaming, hard core gaming in PS4 or Microsoft Xbox One, browsing through Facebook status and interesting feeds, tweets, funny cat and stupendous viral videos in YouTube, cool photos in Instagram, tumbling through Tumbler, pinning never to be read articles and essays and flipping Flipboard like a fantastic ninja. The ever increasing choices to capture the fleeting mind and the decreasing attention span.

Where is the time for reading for the sole purpose of pleasure and broadening one's mind and outlook? Where is the energy and motivation and inspiration opening a melancholic novel written in poetic style illuminating humanity's goodness and its terrible shortcoming? No time and efforts for seeing the world from other person's perspective.

The declining of readership of world's exquisite novels and stories is probably not a surprise in the midst of distractions. The consequences of this painful trend do not bode well for humanity's collective empathy index as this steady downward trend of reading abandonment of world's one of the greatest treasures, books with high quality and transformative and rejuvenating power, may very well nudge humanity to a not so friendly a place, not so kind and gentle ambience where vulnerable segments of any society or a nation are put into heartless treatment.

Seeing the world and this ridiculously short existence from one or many perspectives perhaps helped the humanity's progress from its infancy to its somewhat maturity of the modern world. One by one all the past bigotry, naked hatred, grabbing other man's resources and livelihood were placed under the tightening international and national laws, ensuring the flourishing of democracy, and the uplifting of countless many from the depth of abject poverty and outright cruelty to a livable world. Surely, unstable spots exist where war and violence are still taking heavy tolls on innocent human souls. Certainly, many more are still suffering chained in the sinuous shackles of poverty and its myriad of manifestations. Taking into account of all the miseries and terribleness, humanity is still in a better shape than it was not too long ago in the bygone centuries and millennia.

Unless this tragic downward trend of literary reading can be reversed earnestly, the precious humanitarian achievements that the human world had achieved, may slip away, slip away into the chaos of soulless and robotic impulse where the talk of compassion is mightily overwhelmed by crafty and selfish ploys.

Reference link:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Quantum Night by Robert J Sawyer

I didn't know about the writer Robert J Sawyer. One of the daily deals that Amazon has for Kindle, I just went for it and got this book as it had a good price tag and good reviews. Once started reading it, I found it hard to put down. It's a fast paced book based on scientific and philosophical musings and the world and its indifference to the sufferings of the others. The writer had a hypothesis that entire human race is connected through quantum entanglement and that in individual level there are only one of three quantum levels one can be: Q1 as he termed are the "P-Zed" zombies who doesn't have any inner thoughts, just takes actions based on stimulants. The Q2 are the psychopath and Q3 people have full conscience.

It was an interesting read. The writer invoked some of the current political turmoils in a not so distant future's light. I wish the end could be a bit less predictable. Still, I have enjoyed reading this book and would like to explore more of Robert J Sawyer's writings. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Planting Seeds

Outstanding speech by Hilary Clinton. I hope her inclusive vision becomes triumphant over Trump's exclusivity and fear based propaganda. The following quote from Hilary's speech I found to stay with me for a long time: "Though we may not live to see the glory, as the song from the musical Hamilton goes, "let us gladly join the fight." Let our legacy be about "planting seeds in a garden you never get to see." That's why we're here...not just in this hall, but on this Earth." 

Beautifully said!


Some of the speeches at Democratic National Convention were inspiring. Here are my late night thought before falling into sleep: In the end, the decency, generosity and compassion of Americans I have personally known about will swipe away the despicable bigotry and intolerance of demagogue based politics.

Also, loved reading a GQ article tonight. One memorable segment about Obama's legendary legacy in history I found to be eloquently stated: "This year’s carnival election, with Trump as a kind of debauched circus barker, only makes the distinction clearer. The absurdity and car-crash spectacle of it all have already lent Obama an out-of-time quality, as if he were a creature from another, loftier century. Whatever happens next, I feel this in my bones: We’ll look back at history, hopefully when we’re zooming down the Barack Obama Hyperloop Transport System, and think: That man was rare. And we were damn lucky to have him."

Link to GQ article:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Does Reading Fiction Make You a Better Person?

Reading fiction, especially literary fiction, makes one feels more empathy toward others more than any other forms of writing. A good quote from Sarah Kaplan's article, "When we read about other people, we can imagine ourselves into their position and we can imagine it's like being that person, ....That enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them." And that also helps lessening the heartless stereotyping of anyone. Gotta read more good fictions!

Link to Sarah Kaplan's The Washington Post article: Does Reading Fiction Make You a Better Person?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Pray for Bangladesh, Pray for Humanity

Words have meaning
As do sentences
Weaved by cacophonous words
Our languages
Dialects like the colorful butterfly
Fluttering wings
Spread over the fragrant flowers
And vibrant leaves of summer

Our tears have roots
Like the tree of knowledge
Curved into the depth
Of abyss
Crisscrossing mushy mud, pebbles and stones
As if a meteorite striking
Past the twinkling star

Bones tremble
Like the rattling train engine
Our words and tears
Put a wrapper on our numb agonies
Witnessing the vibrant leaves,
Colorful flowers wither away
Even the sunny summer and sprinkling rain
Could not hold back their gloomy demise

One day
We will depart
This world of immeasurable grace
And allure that the singing birds
Praise in every dawn and dusk
All the stones will remain
As the mushy mud and the pebbles
In sandy beach will be washed
Again and again by ever salty ocean
Our simple hopes and aching love
Our cowering fear and muddy rage
All washed away
Riding the frothy waves
Of bygone humanity

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Terrorism is Injustice

It's heart breaking! Hoping one day the world will get back its collective compassion and sanity while the mindless terrorism, brutal wars, political violence, deepening bigotry and hatred will be cast aside for the sake of neglected humanity. Martin Luther King Jr. said it the best as it does not matter who the victims are, wherever they are, from the hacked bloggers, minorities and ordinary men and women in Bangladesh, gunned down civilians in Tel Aviv, relentless mayhem and subjugation of populace in Palestine, the heart wrenching massacres in Paris and Brussels, every day blood letting in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and increasingly in Turkey, repeated horrors in Pakistan, or the drowning of hundred of helpless migrants in the mediterranean, or the senseless murders of innocents in a gay night club of Orlando, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

What does get accomplished inflicting pains, sufferings, injuries and deaths to the people but more pains, sufferings and inciting bigotry? What political end does it seek to establish but a desolate world where everyone cowers in fear of their very own shadow?

My deepest condolences to the families of the victims.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Rest in Peace Muhammad Ali

Ali, Ali, Ali
Chant the fans,
The roaring crowd
Muhammad Ali
Cassius Clay
Who floored Liston, Frazier
Norton, Foreman
Saying hay! 
Who is the prettiest one?
"Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee
The hands can't hit
What the eyes can't see"

Ali, Ali, Ali
Muhammad Ali
The meanest, the greatest
The poet dancing
With the gloves in the ring
Said no to war and bigotry
Without fear but full of
Alacrity, lived everyday
As the very last one
And the last one 
Has arrived and gone
To dimming dusk

Ali, Ali, Ali
Muhammad Ali
Rest in peace the crazy
bravest man!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Climate Change - Stephen Hawking's Warning

Stephen Hawking's dire warning regarding the catastrophic climate change: "a more immediate danger is runaway climate change,” Hawking said. “A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice-caps, and cause a release of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the ocean floor. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees.”

Climate change is the single most devastating threat the world is facing. With unified global collaboration the world must face it and implement a practical solution in urgent basis. 

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Fort McMurray Fire

The pictures and videos emerging from the burning fire in and around Fort McMurray are painful to watch. An entire town was evacuated, thousands of homes and other infrastructures are burned to the ground. Families had to leave their home and all belongings, most will be lost in the raging fire. I never thought that a major city like Fort McMurray would face so sudden and drastic demise. 

People from all walks of life in Canada and beyond along with Canadian federal government and Alberta provincial government have come forward to help the evacuees. A firefighter friend of my, Chris, is already in the raging city, battling the fire with utmost devotion, the devotion to protect people's home, school, offices, hospitals, playground and industrial areas. Many have opened their homes, taking in the devastated fire evacuees. And many more have donated
to Red Cross, even going through a tough, turbulent economy in Alberta, that
didn't resist them sharing their dwindling resources, including money.

These are all hopeful signs of an intact humanity. With the collaboration among many thousand people in and beyond Alberta, people are uniting to help the fire evacuees.

The worse does bring the best in people.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dear Prince and Beloved Queen

Rest in peace dear Prince
Happy birthday beloved queen
Songs of love without mince
Bolden Royal smile, pristine

I thought you are immortal
Will live forever above fractal
Of life and villainous death
Queen is alive, long live the queen
But the bat dancing prince died, 
leaving the colourful blooming wreath
Scattered around the dismal gloom

When the doves cry, 
All the birds flutter wings and fly
Away, far away.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Arsenic Poisoning in Bangladesh Is Still a Danger to Many

I thought this problem was resolved years ago. When the news came about more than a decade back, lots of international activities were observed. Many deep wells were dug, many promises were made by successive Bangladeshi governments and international organizations and many sympathetic nations. It's not that all these efforts were just simply fruitless. Many millions got spared from drinking arsenic contaminated water in Bangladesh. But according to this news article published in ABC it is the poor, the most marginalized and the people with no political clout are suffering the most because of rampant nepotism and the overall poor governance in Bangladesh. Here is an excerpt:
"An estimated 20 million people in Bangladesh are still being poisoned by arsenic-tainted water — a number that has remained unchanged from 10 years ago despite years of action to dig new wells at safer depths, according to a new report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. 
The New York-based rights group blames nepotism and neglect by Bangladeshi officials, saying they're deliberately having new wells dug in areas convenient for friends, family members and political supporters and allies, rather than in places where arsenic contamination is highest or large numbers of poor villagers are being exposed."
In a democracy based nation like Bangladesh this should be totally unacceptable. The current secular government has taken many good initiatives that helped many poor and the impoverished people but there should be no tolerance toward nepotism where selected villages get preference over the neglected ones because of political consideration and not based on scientific facts and need.

1. Bangladesh Failing Spare Millions from Arsenic Poisoning.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

We are 'children of the same God'

Pope Francis washes the feet of Muslim migrants, says we are 'children of the same God' from The Washington Post

My deep respect for the great Pope Francis. One does not need to believe the same or any religion to recognize the symbolic gesture of compassion shown by this pious man to the vilified human beings (children, women, men) who fled the wars, many of them are now facing the backlash of bigotry spawning from the political exploitation. Goodness still has the core residence in this world. Pope Francis is one of the good souls like many in different faiths and non faith whose relentless struggles over zealots and fools are the source of inspiration.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What's Happening - a poem

What's happening 
Boy, twisted metal
Blaring sirens
Destroy the 
Musical scream

Deep into the night
Dark time screeches 
The passersby
School children 
Throws the books 
Of science and art
Out the cryptic window
Uttering flamboyant vow
Not to return
To the lands of the vulgar creep

Mourning the mangled dead
The bloody hat, prosthetics
Colourful, and cheery
Riders of the galloping horses
Squeezing the eye lids, scrutinize
All that look different, hazy
Muttering the words of flame

Shame! Shame! Shame!
Says the neighbour,
Shopkeeper, random man
With dry washed suit
And the lady pushing a stroller
Out of here! Out of this land!
Says the mass in electronic flare

What's happening
Had happened before
Times and again
Here, on this land
Where the freedom reign
With the songs of glory
Of Beauty, goodness supreme
There, the invaded,
Chastised, incinerated
Where little children
With dried tears and muffled groan
Play tic tac toe 
On bloodied mud and stone
Or colouring the Easter Egg
Near the smashed skull 
And bones of ma and papa
Without atone